The governor proposed legislation yesterday that would bring collective-bargaining rights to state employees -- and immediately drew fire from lawmakers worried that it would hurt Maryland's budget and its business climate.
The bill would allow unions representing 40,000 to 50,000 government workers to negotiate salaries, hours and working conditions with management.
Although it would not affect private employers, the measure could discourage businesses from locating in the state by promoting the impression that Maryland is too pro-labor, some Republicans and key Democrats said.
"The concern is that collective bargaining, at this time, would send the wrong message about the business-friendly environment we're trying to create to be competitive," said Baltimore Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
If the bill survives a decidedly uphill battle in Annapolis, Maryland would join 25 other states with comprehensive bargaining laws for public employees.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening is seeking to fulfill a campaign promise he made to unions, which provided him with key support in his razor-thin election victory.
Unlike union members in the private sector, state employees would not be allowed to strike, nor would their contract disputes be settled by full binding arbitration.
The General Assembly also would retain its budgetary power over salaries. That means the legislature could decide not to fund a negotiated pay raise if it deemed the proposal too expensive.
The unions currently represent workers in various personnel matters but have no bargaining rights.
The two biggest state employee unions were split on the bill.
An official with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees hailed the governor's proposal.
"Of course we'd like to see stronger language on a number of issues, but we think the bill does provide a strong collective-bargaining mechanism for state employees," said Kim Keller, Maryland area director of AFSCME. "It will put them light years ahead with regard to being able to raise their issues and get them resolved."
The Maryland Classified Employees Association said the bill did not go far enough. "It's necessary that state employees have binding arbitration in order to advance from the position they're in now," said spokeswoman Janet Anderson.
Although the bill provides a role for independent mediators, an impasse in contract negotiations ultimately would be settled by a labor relations board appointed by the governor.
In binding arbitration, a party without such ties to either side settles contract disputes.
In an interview yesterday, Ms. Anderson said that as a candidate in August 1994, Mr. Glendening told her he supported binding arbitration.
"We're always aware of the fact that what an individual says in a campaign is not always what he says after he or she is elected," she said.
State Labor Secretary Eugene A. Conti Jr. defended the bill, saying it would improve employee morale and efficiency without harming the state budget.
He said he did not know how much collective bargaining would cost but that it would not be nearly as much as the $30 million to $42 million legislative analysts predicted in a preliminary estimate.
Administration officials also rejected the contention that the bill would hurt the state's business climate.
The governor "believes it is not anti-business, and that message will be successful," said Buddy Roogow, a deputy chief of staff.