Collective bargaining in court Executive order: Md. suit raises legitimate questions over usurping legislative powers.

December 26, 1996

DID GOV. Parris N. Glendening have the power to grant unions collective bargaining? That is the crux of a lawsuit filed by prominent Maryland business groups seeking to nullify the governor's executive order as a flagrant usurpation of legislative authority. They cite an impressive array of 39 prior court rulings, attorney general opinions and legislative history to prove their case.

In May, we termed the governor's executive order "bad for state government, bad for taxpayers and bad for other state-employee unions" beyond the favored American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that heartily supported Mr. Glendening's campaign for governor. Yet this lawsuit won't be decided on these points. Both the governor and business leaders are off-base in trying to make a political issue of this litigation.

What an Anne Arundel circuit court judge, and ultimately the Maryland Court of Appeals, must decide is whether the governor exceeded his legitimate powers in setting up an elaborate collective bargaining system for some 40,000 state employees by executive decree. He did this after the General Assembly had decisively rejected his bid to write collective bargaining into state law.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran gave the governor a lukewarm legal opinion supporting the executive order, noting his "fundamental policy reservations" and pointing out the limits of Mr. Glendening's powers to act without legislative consent on collective bargaining. The governor's case isn't helped, either, by a legal opinion from a highly respected assistant attorney general, Robert A. Zarnoch, who had told legislative leaders in April that "such an executive order would be inconsistent with law."

Business leaders say the governor's unilateral move on collective bargaining is virtually unprecedented in the U.S. It certainly flies in the face of past General Assembly decisions over a half-century, including votes last spring to strip even weak "meet and confer" bargaining provisions from a personnel-reform law.

This dispute ought to be litigated. The extent of the governor's policy-making powers via executive order needs definition. It is unfortunate that General Assembly officers let corporate leaders give them cover instead of taking this step themselves. That has created needless friction between the governor and business groups. Both sides should lower their voices and let the courts decide the validity of this important constitutional and statutory question.

Pub Date: 12/26/96

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