Public Attorneys Form Union At Virginia Indigent Defense Commission

Public Defenders in Virginia set aim for adequate funding, case load reductions in new bid to unionize across the Commonwealth

FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia — The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is proud to announce a new initiative to organize public defenders employed with the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission (VIDC), starting with the Fredericksburg Office of the Public Defender, whose attorneys have organized with majority support under the banner of the IWW.

While counties and municipalities in Virginia have recently received the right to opt-in and allow their public sector workers to collectively bargain, employees of the Commonwealth such as public defenders are at-will employees who are not entitled to protections under the National Labor Relations Act and have no collective bargaining rights (as per Va. Code 40.1-57.2).

Notwithstanding, employees of the Commonwealth have the legal right to freely associate with an organization of their choosing for the purposes of improving workplace conditions, as per Va. Code 40.1-57.3. The IWW will assert this right to its fullest extent across the 23 public defenders offices in the state.

Workplace issues of broad concern to public defenders in the Commonwealth include pay and caseload levels. Not unlike many workers in healthcare, public defenders have a case load that all but ensures clients receive inadequate time and attention — resulting in avoidable injustice to individuals and undue costs to the public. Public defenders want to better serve their clients and afford to live in Virginia.



“Public Defenders are overworked and underpaid everywhere. We burn out fast. We have mental health crises. Many of us stay because we love the work we do. But we are drowning and have to sacrifice time with our families just to breathe. The only time I can get a significant amount of work done is to work on the weekends. We chose the IWW because we do not simply want a contract. We want serious systemic change. We want to empower ourselves and the communities we serve.” – Mitchell Jacobs, Assistant Public Defender

“The issue facing public defense is the same issue facing all those in passion driven jobs – that management will always expect more for less. Educators, healthcare workers, public defenders have the same exploitable "problem" – that we care. We care about the welfare of our students, patients and clients. And management capitalizes on that caring to provide less resources, less respect, even as they pile more work onto overburdened systems. And they think we have no choice, because what is the alternative? But fundamentally caring for our client’s welfare means that management must eventually put their foot down – a first grade teacher cannot effectively teach a classroom of three hundred students and a lawyer cannot effectively advocate for one hundred, two hundred, three hundred impoverished people charged with crimes.” – Rachel Gallagher, Assistant Public Defender

“Public defenders represent the most vulnerable members of our community – those whose existence in the legal system is simply for punishment. Every day we plead to an indifferent system for people not to be sent to jail. We plead to a system fundamentally bent on punishment and individualization of societal-wide crises. I dream of a world without poverty, without prisons, without prosecutors, without defense attorneys. I dream of a world where each and every member of our community can live a life of stability and dignity. Until then, we fight out of love for our clients, love for our colleagues, and love for our communities.” – Ian Pulz, Assistant Public Defender

“It is time that those of us who are exploited and taken advantage of begin to formulate methods of resistance. Just because our employer doesn’t profit from our labor like a typical capitalist organization doesn’t mean we aren’t oppressed by the power structure. Our clients suffer the most being dependent upon an underfunded team of dedicated professionals fighting against a system designed to prevent fairness in the administration of justice. Our mission is to help the poor – but we should not have to surrender our own basic needs and dignity in the process.” – Bill Eisnogel, Assistant Public Defender

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