State workers picking unions Business groups expected to sue to block agreements

November 16, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

In what is being billed as the nation's largest union election in more than six years, the first of more than 40,000 eligible state employees have begun receiving ballots to pick which union will represent them in negotiations with the Glendening administration.

Ballots are being mailed to workers amid radio advertising blitzes and threats of a lawsuit by business leaders, who would like to derail Gov. Parris N. Glendening's executive order giving state workers a limited form of collective bargaining.

It remains unclear whether the selection of unions -- and any kind of agreement reached through bargaining -- will be finished in time to have an effect on the Glendening budget that the legislature will consider when it convenes in January, state officials say.

A possible stumbling block to union-bargained agreements is the lawsuit threatened by leaders of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, Greater Baltimore Committee and Greater Washington Board of Trade, who contend that Glendening overstepped his legal bounds with the executive order.

Champe C. McCulloch, the chamber's president, said no final decision has been made on filing a lawsuit to block the order and scrap the process, but the three groups are moving in that direction.

"We've directed the attorneys to draw up the necessary papers to draft the pleadings," McCulloch said this week. "We'll be in a position to make that go/no-go decision within the next month."

Many state workers already are members of unions, which primarily have handled individual employee grievances. But Glendening's order allows each bargaining unit to elect a union to negotiate with the administration and requires managers to discuss wages, hours and working conditions with that union.

The result is considered a limited version of collective bargaining, because any agreement reached would not be binding on the governor or the legislature, and the order contains no provision to resolve disputes between labor and management. It also forbids state employees from striking.

By signing the order, Glendening made good on a vow to union officials who delivered campaign support during the 1994 governor's race.

First ballots mailed

The first ballots have been mailed to workers in three bargaining units -- groupings of employees with similar job descriptions -- established in Glendening's executive order. More than 10,000 ballots were sent Nov. 8 to employees in the three units: labor and trades; health and human service nonprofessionals; and social and human service professionals.

Employees in those units may choose between the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Maryland Classified Employees Association (MCEA). Workers also have a third option on the ballot, no representation.

They have until Dec. 2 to return ballots to the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which is overseeing the elections. State officials expect the ballots to be counted the next day, and officials of AFSCME and MCEA say they will be ready to bargain with the state immediately.

But that may not be soon enough.

Frederick W. Puddester, the state budget secretary, said it is conceivable that union-negotiated pay raises -- and other benefits with a price tag -- could be included in the budget that is being pulled together now. But, he said, any agreement reached next month "is very late in the budget process."

Under Maryland's Constitution, the governor's budget must be submitted to the legislature by Jan. 15. Puddester said that Glendening could adjust his spending plan with a supplemental budget later in the legislative session.

If the pay raises from union-bargained agreements are not included in this year's budget, state workers would have to wait until the start of the next fiscal year, July 1, 1998, before they became effective. In that case, workers would be dependent on Glendening's generosity for pay raises in the coming year.

Meanwhile, the balloting continues.

Ballots were mailed yesterday to nearly 8,000 state employees in a fourth bargaining unit, the public safety and security group, made up mostly of workers in the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

In that contest, MCEA is competing with the Maryland Correctional Union and a third union, a joint effort of AFSCME and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters known as the United Corrections and Public Safety Employees of Maryland.

The next ballots to go out will be for representation of the state's police officers, including the Maryland State Police. Those ballots are expected to be mailed Friday and have a return date of Dec. 18.

Two unions have submitted petitions to represent the police officers -- the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance and the Teamsters.

Fierce competition

The largest union election before this year's contest in Maryland took place six years ago, when former Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh signed a similar order for his state's 27,000 employees.

In a bitter fight, unions -- including AFSCME -- poured an estimated $15 million into campaigns to sign up workers and win the elections.

In Maryland, the costs are not expected to be anywhere near that amount, though AFSCME and MCEA are competing with radio advertising and multiple mailings to state employees.

Pub Date: 11/16/96

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