Organized labor won a battle in Annapolis yesterday when a bill designed to help the state's bus system turn some jobs over to private contractors was effectively killed for this year.
The measure, pushed by House Republican leader Ellen
Sauerbrey of Baltimore County and endorsed by the business community, would have prevented state agencies from entering into a union agreement that barred them from contracting with private businesses.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, won the backing of House members to send the measure back to his committee for "amendments." But with less than two weeks to go in the legislative session, the move means the bill is almost certainly dead.
"Needless to say I am more than a little disappointed," said Mrs. Sauerbrey. "I do not believe you will see it on the floor again this year."
Though the measure would have affected only one state agency -- the Mass Transit Administration -- organized labor came out in force to fight the bill. "It's an invasion, an attack on collective bargaining rights," said Edward A. Mohler, president of the Maryland and District of Columbia AFL-CIO.
The MTA is the only state agency that has collective bargaining contracts. The one-paragraph bill comes when the MTA is about to begin negotiations with the Amalgamated Transit Union.
The transit union represents bus and rail operators, mechanics and maintenance workers. Their bosses at the MTA appear to be interested in privatizing the contracts for workers who clean cars, Mr. Mohler said. The union's existing contract, he added, makes clear "there should be no work contracted out that would displace current workers."
Mrs. Sauerbrey said that other transit systems, such as San Diego, have used private firms for some jobs -- including providing bus service on certain routes -- to save millions of dollars. A study by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit research group, found that Maryland could have saved as much as $47 million in 1991 if it followed San Diego's lead.
"If services are privatized, the cost of transportation would go down," said Robert O.C. Worcester, president of Maryland Business for Responsive Government, a pro-business group.