Mark O’Brien, former President of the Supervising Judicial Marshals Council (SJM), passed away at the age of 67. Until his retirement in January of this year, Mark was the first and only President of his Council. During his nearly twenty years as President, Mark would often say “we went from the outhouse to the penthouse,” when talking about the pay, benefits, and working conditions of his members. Mark credited the SJM members and officers for this transformation.
Mark started his career as a Deputy Sheriff in the old county sheriff system that provided courthouse security. He worked at the busiest courthouse in Connecticut, the criminal court on Lafayette Street in Hartford, and later transferred to the Appellate Court.
Before the deputy sheriffs were officially brought into state service, deputy sheriffs were amongst the lowest paid full-time employees without any benefits providing state services. Deputy sheriffs only received a small per diem for keeping our courthouse safe for the public. Deputy sheriffs had no pensions, no health insurance, no vacation time, no sick leave, no longevity payments, no “just cause” for discipline, no transfer rights, no holiday pay, and no predictable work schedules. The deputy sheriffs worked at the whim of the County’s High Sheriff.
Once they were brought into state service, initially in the Executive Branch, and then in the Judicial Branch, they received some statutory benefits, but not the type of benefits and rights enjoyed by other unionized state employees.
The road to unionization led by Mark and other leaders was fraught with danger. Mark was told that if they did not succeed in unionization, he would be transferred from Hartford to Bridgeport, a 90-minute commute on a good day. Mark and the others took that risk knowing that unionizing would improve the lives of all of the SJM members.
On July 27, 2004, CSEA filed a petition for a union election. The Judicial Branch objected to the petition and objected to holding the union election in any of the courthouses. This was intended to make voting as inconvenient as possible. Instead, the union election was held at union halls around the state, for the first time in Connecticut Labor Board history. Mark and his leadership team turned out the vote and the Union won, but it was not over. The Judicial branch filed objections to the election and certification of CSEA as the union. On February 3, 2005, the State Board of Labor Relations certified the union to represent the Supervising Judicial Marshals. The long journey was over and contract negotiations began for their first contract.
One of the first issues addressed by the Supervising Judicial Marshal Council even before they were certified as a union was the retirement system that they were placed in. The marshals and supervisors were placed into the non-hazardous duty pension system even though they had responsibility for processing arrested individuals at arraignments and those individuals incarcerated in our state prisons that were appearing in court proceedings. They were also responsible for the 24-hour lockups in Hartford and New Haven. The marshals and supervising marshals were able to win the right to a hazardous duty retirement (20 years and out) before the SEBAC Pension Grievance Committee. Next came the struggle to recognize their service as deputy sheriffs as state service for purposes of pension credit. In 2017, after years of lobbying at the Legislature and the Governor, the State agreed to recognize up to three years of deputy sheriff service as state service. Mark led the fights so the most senior members could retire with dignity.
According to CSEA Executive Director, Dave Glidden, “Mark was a force of nature always advocating for the members either collectively or individually. He will be greatly missed by all CSEA members. It is a tragedy that he will not be able to enjoy the fruits of his own labor in retirement that he fought so far for his members.”
"Mark was not only an inspirational union leader but an aspirational human,” said Thomas Gordecki, former Vice President of SJM, “He led his life in such a way that others always came before him. It was his life experience overcoming addiction that propelled him into living this way. Whether he got a call at work, at home, at night, during the day, or on vacation, he always answered the call for someone in crisis. He never shied away from talking about his recovery, knowing that all too often it was those conversations that helped others get the help they needed. His loss is a crushing one to not only CSEA, not only the men and women he mentored through recovery but each and every person who ever had the opportunity to meet him."