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Md. Legal Aid’s union files NLRB complaint over firings

Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr., executive director of Maryland Legal Aid.

Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr., executive director of Maryland Legal Aid, has declined to comment on the terminations, other than to say they are confidential personnel matters. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Maryland Legal Aid’s employees’ union is urging the National Labor Relations Board to order four fired supervisory attorneys to be reinstated, saying they were illegally terminated for having raised concerns about MLA’s back-to-the-office order amid the pandemic.

MLA’s senior leadership violated the National Labor Relations Act’s protection for workers who speak out against unsafe working conditions with its July 24 firing of Anita Bailey, Blake Fetrow, John Marshall and Lisa Sarro, the National Organization of Legal Services Workers’ local chapter stated in its complaint filed Thursday with the NLRB.

Senior management “unlawfully interfered with its employees’ … protected right to concertedly speak out against MLA’s unsafe and premature plan to reopen its physical offices during the pandemic and unlawfully discharged four members of management in order to chill the employees’ protected activity,” the complaint stated.

In addition to reinstating the supervisors, the union seeks the board’s order that MLA “cease and desist” from interfering with its workers’ right to speak out.

“Maryland Legal Aid’s actions are harmful to clients, devastating to staff, and destructive to the organization,” Pam Smith, president of the union’s local chapter, said in a statement announcing the NLRB filing.

“The terminations are clearly motivated by a desire to discourage union activity and to quash the expression of dissent more broadly,” Smith added. “Their message is loud and clear, if MLA leadership will thoughtlessly terminate these four attorneys for respectfully expressing concerns about the health and safety of clients and staff during a global pandemic, no one is safe.”

Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr., MLA’s executive director, said Friday that senior management had not received official notice of the NLRB filing.

“MLA’s primary focus remains on following health and safety protocols to protect clients and staff in MLA offices, and the continuity and accessibility of critical civil legal services for clients as they navigate the many life-altering challenges presented by COVID-19,” Joseph added. “For many of Maryland’s most vulnerable residents, MLA is their only resource for direct civil legal services.”

Joseph has declined to comment specifically on the firings, saying MLA does not publicly discuss personnel matters.

Bailey, Fetrow and Marshall were fired a week after they had signed on to a letter — with eight other chief attorneys who were not dismissed — urging senior management to ease MLA’s back-to-the-office order amid the pandemic so staff members who are parents lacking child care options or have health conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19 could continue to work remotely.

Bailey was chief attorney for Anne Arundel County, while Fetrow and Marshall were chief attorneys for Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, respectively. Sarro, a supervising attorney, did not sign the letter but had raised concerns about MLA’s back-to-work policy, according to the union.

The union’s filing followed a letter more than 130 former MLA staffers sent to senior managers assailing the firings as part of their pattern of disregard for employees and their safety.

 


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