Bargaining plan called 'substantial' Analysts say union could cost Maryland up to $20 million

House panel hears report

Delegates grill staff over fairness, legality of governor's order

September 25, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer C. Fraser Smith contributed to this article.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's move to give state employees limited collective bargaining rights could cost $13 million to $20 million a year in additional wages and benefits, legislative analysts predicted yesterday.

"The potential impact could be substantial," researcher David Smulski of the state's Department of Fiscal Services told members of the House Appropriations Committee in Annapolis.

In a report certain to heighten concerns over the governor's executive order on collective bargaining, the General Assembly's professional staff suggested the order could open the door for state employees to stage work slowdowns, sickouts or other "concerted action" short of an actual strike.

The report also said that if state officials dig in their heels on an issue, unions might be able to sue the state for failing to negotiate in good faith.

"I think the Department of Fiscal Services has raised some very significant issues that are going to be part of our discussions during the legislative session," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Democrat from Baltimore and the committee's chairman.

The report set the stage for an often-contentious hearing, during which skeptical delegates grilled Glendening administration officials over the cost, the fairness and the legality of the May 24 order.

The fiscal services department based its projections of salary and benefit increases on the track record of collective bargaining in states that have granted employees such rights. It estimated that union-represented employees would gain 1 percent to 1.5 percent a year more with bargaining.

Eugene A. Conti Jr., the governor's secretary of labor, licensing and regulation, did not directly address those projections. He took issue, however, with the analysts' estimates that the cost of holding union elections and bargaining sessions alone would come to $350,700 in fiscal 1997 and $608,500 in fiscal 1998.

Conti assured delegates that the administration could launch collective bargaining with no additional administrative costs in either year.

Glendening's order, which he issued after the General Assembly rejected collective bargaining legislation, outraged many Maryland business leaders and raised hackles even among pro-labor legislators. Three of Maryland's leading business groups announced this year they might sue the governor, alleging that he had violated the constitutional separation of powers. No action has been taken, but the three groups continue to discuss legal action.

Representatives of the Greater Baltimore Committee, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Washington Board of Trade met with Glendening last week at his Baltimore office. The meeting was described as an unsuccessful effort to find some area of common ground.

Gene Bracken, a spokesman for the Greater Baltimore Committee, said yesterday that the costs predicted by the analysts are in line with studies done by his organization. "We're not surprised by those numbers," he said.

Although the unilateral nature of Glendening's action provoked charges that he had overstepped his legal authority, an assistant attorney general told legislators that the governor's order was legally "defensible."

Jack Schwartz said the governor had acted within his authority to run the executive branch. He conceded, however, that "there is a risk of litigation" challenging the order.

Pub Date: 9/25/96

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