Glendening pay plans send mixed signals 2 differing proposals on pay aim at desires of both business, labor

February 02, 1996|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

How can you be a pro-business governor and fulfill your promises to labor at the same time?

If you're Parris N. Glendening, the answer is to introduce two personnel bills -- one championed by labor, the other embraced by business.

Yesterday, he submitted personnel reform legislation that would link pay raises for state government employees to their job performance. The measure appears to contradict another Glendening proposal that would allow unions to negotiate salaries for those workers.

The two proposals have left many in Annapolis confused. The bills seem to attack the same problem -- an antiquated personnel system -- from very different angles, legislators and others say.

"There is no question they send mixed signals," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Cumberland Democrat.

Not surprisingly, unions and businesses -- two groups the governor has tried to please -- have staked out opposite positions.

Public employee unions, which gave Mr. Glendening crucial support in his 1994 campaign, are backing his collective bargaining bill. It would grant them the power to negotiate wages and working conditions for up to 50,000 state employees.

But they dislike key aspects of his personnel reform measure, which would tie pay raises to productivity and make it easier to hire and fire state workers.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce, on the other hand, is endorsing that bill, saying it would treat state workers more like their counterparts in the private sector. But the group opposes collective bargaining as being costly and anti-business.

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg said it is hard to reconcile the two proposals.

"The current personnel system needs to be dynamited because it's so difficult to hire or reward good workers and to discipline or fire bad employees," the Baltimore Democrat said. The governor's personnel reform bill seeks to correct those problems, but "collective bargaining is moving in the wrong direction," he said.

"On the surface it's confusing," said Gene Burner, executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce.

Some legislators view the bills as the inevitable result of the governor's desire to fulfill his promises to labor while also promoting business interests.

During his 1994 campaign, Mr. Glendening wooed organized labor with the promise of introducing bargaining for state workers.

Despite the support of unions, environmentalists and other traditionally Democratic groups, he only narrowly won election in this heavily Democratic state over a conservative Republican.

Since then, he has repeatedly painted himself as a friend to business and, political observers say, moved more toward the right.

"The problem with the governor is he's trying to please too many people," said Robert Stephens of the Maryland Classified Employees Association, a union.

"The personnel reform bill is an effort to appease business, and collective bargaining is for labor. Can you have both? I don't see how," Mr. Stephens said. "I don't see how you can be pro-business and pro-labor at the same time."

It's quite easy, say administration officials, who contend the two bills are complementary, not contradictory.

"We must bring business and labor together to move the state ahead," said Mr. Glendening. "The combined package gives us a management system where we can be far more effective and efficient with our resources."

The personnel reform legislation would set up a baseline from which unions can attempt to bargain, said acting Personnel Secretary Michael A. Glass.

Administration officials do not yet know exactly how the bill's pay-for-performance proposal will work nor how much it will cost.

But the idea, they say, is to tie pay raises to an employee's annual evaluation. Above-average and superior employees would receive bonuses, most likely in addition to cost-of-living increases, officials said. Under the current system, employees typically receive across-the-board raises unrelated to their performance.

Some union officials fear that such a system could be abused by bad managers. "There's no way to prevent people from being treated unfairly in their appraisals because of racism, nepotism or friendship," Mr. Stephens said.

Performance pay also might encourage workers to sabotage each other, rather than cooperate, said Sue Esty of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Baltimore.

But the Chamber of Commerce believes the result would be savings to the state -- and a smaller appetite for taxes, Mr. Burner said.

Collective bargaining could undo such gains, say business leaders and some legislators. Even though the private sector is unaffected, the measure could send businesses the message that "labor has a stranglehold on the state," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

And that, the Baltimore Democrat said, is something the governor is trying to avoid.

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