High cost of collective bargaining Glendening's order: Study shows potential $20 million expense next year for taxpayers.

September 29, 1996

FOES OF Gov. Parris Glendening's order mandating collective bargaining for 46,000 state employees now have some powerful ammunition. A legislative study indicates that the governor's payoff to powerful unions for their campaign support comes at an increasingly steep price.

Negotiating nine separate labor agreements with state workers could inflate government expenses and create a hostile, adversarial climate -- exactly the opposite of what the governor had claimed in issuing his executive order. The report notes that legislators could be powerless to stop the governor if he decides to raise salaries for these unionized groups in his budget and greatly increase fringe benefits.

The report estimates the governor's order will boost wages for state employees by 1 to 1.5 percent a year. That will cost as much as $20 million next year. It is just the beginning.

Worse, lawmakers wouldn't be able to reject these pay raises if the governor wants to evade legislative scrutiny. It's also possible the legislature won't have the power to reject benefit changes, either. That includes costly, individual health packages for the nine bargaining units; mileage and meal allowances; work rules; insurance coverage, and pay for shift differentials and longevity. He even has the power to give workers protection against layoffs -- something he did in Prince George's County, much to the consternation of his successor.

And if this bargaining extends to 6,100 contractual employees -- as the governor's order allows -- you can tack on another $30 million in state expenses next year.

Lawmakers' only option would be to pass legislation either repealing or revising the governor's order so that legislative approval is required. That could prove difficult, given strong union opposition to such an effort and the governor's veto power.

Still, the General Assembly may have no choice but to act in light of the governor's decision to disregard their votes against collective bargaining bills this year. His action tips the balance of power in the State House.

General Assembly leaders ought to be alarmed. So should business leaders mulling whether to ask a court to overturn the governor's order because it exceeds his authority. Collective bargaining through executive fiat may be a political plus for Mr. Glendening, but not for taxpayers or their state legislators.

Pub Date: 9/29/96

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