Businesses challenge Glendening Lawsuit planned to block governor on collective bargaining

State workers organizing

Opponents contend order sends wrong message on unions

December 14, 1996|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Thomas Waldron contributed to this article.

Three major Maryland business organizations have decided to file a lawsuit to try to block Gov. Parris N. Glendening's grant of limited collective bargaining rights to state employees, people close to the groups said yesterday.

The organizations, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Greater Baltimore Committee, plan an announcement on the matter next week. After months of deliberation, the groups have agreed to collaborate on a suit that would seek to nullify Glendening's executive order on bargaining rights, the sources said, on the grounds that he overstepped authority and violated Maryland's Constitution.

The suit would exert severe new strain on relations between the governor and the business community only weeks after Glendening agreed to seek a personal income-tax cut, a long-sought goal of Maryland business interests.

Business leaders contend that bargaining rights for state workers would cost taxpayers extra money and send the wrong message to companies thinking of locating in Maryland. But Glendening spokeswoman Judi Scioli said yesterday that the suit would actually hurt Maryland's business image.

"If it is true, it is extremely unfortunate," she said. "The governor has put together an aggressive package to promote business in this state. He's made it a priority. A lawsuit would take this state in the opposite direction."

None of the three business groups would talk about the decision to sue or confirm it. GBC is "certainly in the final stages of making a decision," said spokesman Gene Bracken. "I can't confirm anything beyond that."

Champe C. McCulloch, president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said, "You will be sent a fax on Wednesday of next week" regarding the matter.

"Up to the moment those papers are filed, we do not have a suit," said Robert Krebs, spokesman for the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

Glendening, a Democrat, signed the collective-bargaining order on May 24, honoring a commitment to state workers made during his campaign. The privilege would improve worker productivity and morale, he said.

But the move immediately raised a furor in his own party as well as in the commercial community. Only weeks earlier, the General Assembly had rejected a stronger collective bargaining proposal for state workers. Legislative leaders accused Glendening of flouting the Assembly's wishes.

His order, affecting more than 40,000 workers, allows bargaining units to elect a union to negotiate with the state and requires state managers to bargain with union representatives on working conditions, wages and benefits.

Any agreements reached, however, would not be binding on the governor or the legislature, and the order contains no provision to resolve disputes between labor and management. The order also forbids state employees from striking.

Some 18,000 state workers in four bargaining units have already voted for union representation, said Joe Lawrence, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

AFSCME has prevailed in three elections. In the fourth, employees voted for a coalition union of AFSCME and the Teamsters union.

"Whatever scheme these wealthy corporate CEOs are devising,

it won't distract state employees from democratically pursuing improvements in their working lives," Lawrence said yesterday.

The business groups' litigation, to be filed in Anne Arundel County, presumably would seek an injunction banning further elections until the case is decided. The groups have retained Baltimore lawyer Samuel Cook to handle the case.

Business leaders object to Glendening's order on symbolic as well as fiscal grounds. It could cost the state between $13 million and $20 million a year in extra wages and benefits, the state Department of Fiscal Services reported in September, a cost that would be funded in part by business taxes.

At the same time, the order signaled to out-of-state businesses and relocation consultants that "in Maryland, we are going the wrong way. We are increasing the unionization of the state labor force," said Del. Robert H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said he welcomes the lawsuit because it may allow a judge to sort out a thorny legal dispute involving the executive and legislative branches of state government.

"Clearly, many of us believe that there is an issue of separation of powers that the judiciary should address," said Taylor, an Allegany County Democrat.

Pub Date: 12/14/96

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