More than a month after the city’s public defenders announced their intent to unionize, the Defender Association of Philadelphia has offered a pathway to voluntary recognition.
The public nonprofit that runs the defender’s office has proposed hosting a vote overseen by a third party, and if a majority of workers vote for the union, it will become official.
The Defender Association’s proposal adds another step to the voluntary recognition process. It’s not routine to do it this way, but it’s also not unheard of, said Valerie Braman, a labor educator at Penn State University. Some employers do ask for verification of a majority before recognizing, she said.
Paul Hetznecker, president of the 27-member board of directors, said it wanted to offer a quicker alternative to a formal National Labor Relations Board election, which occurs 30 days after the proposed union files for election. Hetznecker, a civil-rights lawyer who has defended workers, said the board had received several requests from longtime defenders for a vote.
The Defenders Union, which says a majority of the 200 defenders in the office are in favor of unionizing with the United Auto Workers, has said it will consider the request. It also filed for an NLRB election today to start the clock on the 30-day lead-up period. The election petition can be pulled at any time.
Elections tend to be preceded by a period during which employers host meetings at which they set out the implications of forming a union, which labor advocates say are aimed at discouraging the effort.
The concerns of the city’s public defenders, who represent roughly 70% of all Philadelphians arrested on criminal charges or probation violations, range from "unresponsive managers and unpredictable scheduling to concerns about staff turnover,” according to a WHYY report.
Public defenders around the country have spoken up about being underpaid and overworked, saying that it hurts the profession because it allows people of only a certain economic background to become public defenders.