Collective bargaining bill misrepresented

March 26, 1996

IT'S HARD NOT to wonder if The Sun's editorial writer who attacked the collective bargaining bill now before the General Assembly had been reading his or her own paper, let alone the bill itself.

The lead editorial March 12 opposing the collective bargaining bill claims it would allow state employees ''more frequent and bigger pay increases . . . without them having to worry about such things as legislative approval.''

That's not what The Sun wrote in its Jan. 26 article on the collective bargaining bill. In it the reporter wrote, ''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.''

That sounds like legislative approval to us.

The editorial goes on to say that the bill has a ''form of binding arbitration that would put legislators and executive officials in a straitjacket.''

Let's examine further the tailoring of this ''straitjacket.'' To begin with, as The Sun reported in January, ''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.'' It should be noted those appointees require Senate approval.

The article goes on to contrast this with binding arbitration. ''In binding arbitration, a party without such ties to either side settles contract disputes.''

In citing a situation in New York City, it seems the editorial writer isn't reading the New York papers, either.

''The state legislature recently overrode objections from the governor and mayor and approved binding arbitration for the New York City police union,'' the editorial states.

If one depended solely on The Sun editorial page, one would not know that New York police already had binding arbitration, and all the bill did was transfer it from a city-appointed board to one appointed by the state and that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani supports binding arbitration.

And as we have already noted, binding arbitration is not included the Maryland bill.

The Sun editorial finishes by touting a pay-for-performance proposal as the way to enhance public services. ''A good merit-pay law might work wonders for the morale and efficiency of state government.''

The truth is merit-pay schemes have a particularly bad track record in the public sector where programs are invariably under-funded, biased and lack credibility with employees. In practice, merit pay frequently falls prey to partisan politics.

The proven way to get the most and the best out of the work force is to give those workers a real voice and a stake in the operation.

There is no better example than Ohio, a state with a powerhouse economy (three years running the most popular site for locating new businesses and expansions) and a state government that is a model for the nation. Its success with Total Quality Management has, according to its Republican governor, George Voinovich, come about ''Thanks to outstanding cooperation from our employee unions and their enlightened leaders . . . Ohio today is recognized as the national leader in quality management.''

Ohio may be only 75 miles away, but its accomplishments may as well be light years away given the backward, wholly inaccurate attack your editorial made on collective bargaining.

Ironically, the day it appeared, a representative of Governor Voinovich's office testified before the Maryland Senate Finance Committee on behalf of state employee collective bargaining and how it helped turned around state service in Ohio.

The Maryland taxpayers and the Maryland state employee deserve the same chance to improve state service.

As a state employee and a taxpayer, I can say your misinformed editorial did not serve the interests of either.

Donna Edwards

Baltimore

The writer is president of Council 92, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Pub Date: 3/26/96

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