Protests mild over raise for state workers Governor was assailed for granting right to collective bargaining

First round complete

5% boost negotiated for public safety and prison employees

October 12, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

When Gov. Parris N. Glendening unilaterally granted state workers collective-bargaining rights last year, the criticism was intense. Legislators fumed, and business leaders took the governor to court.

But as the results of the first round of bargaining came in last week -- including modest raises and workplace improvements for public safety employees -- critics found little ammunition for their opposition.

Most said they saw little to complain about in the agreement reached by state and union negotiators, although many still made philosophical arguments against public-sector unionizing.

"There is nothing in this negotiated settlement that is going to shock or outrage the public," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican, adding that he could support the raise negotiated for prison workers.

"The problem with collective bargaining for state employees is that the public interest gets eaten up in bits and pieces," he said.

The labor agreement covering about 8,000 prison and public safety employees would provide a pay raise of $1,275 a year for each worker, an average increase of about 5 percent.

Glendening said the rest of the state's 72,000 employees probably would receive the same $1,275 annual raise when he submits his budget for next year to the General Assembly.

That raise -- which, like the one for the prison and public safety employees, requires Assembly approval -- would amount to an average of 3.5 percent and would be the first pay raise for most state workers in three years.

Several legislators, Democrats and Republicans, said they would support such a raise, which would cost the state roughly $56 million next year.

So would Donald P. Hutchinson, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, one of three business groups that challenged Glendening's imposition of collective bargaining.

"I don't think that this particular salary increase is unreasonable,"Hutchinson said. "But I do think that a collective-bargaining process is still going to cost the state an extraordinary amount of money in the long term."

Ellen R. Sauerbrey, Glendening's likely Republican opponent in next year's election, said the 3.5 percent average raise is "not out of line" with where she would have taken state salaries had she won the 1994 election.

Besides salary, the agreement with the public safety union grants modest improvements in some employee benefits. One concession gives the public safety employees two days of bereavement leave to attend funerals. Currently, they must use sick leave.

Champe C. McCulloch, head of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, another of the groups that sued Glendening, said he could not quarrel with bereavement leave, noting that the chamber, too, gives employees paid time off for deaths in the family.

Under Glendening's executive order, state workers are permitted to elect union representation to bargain over salary and work conditions, but they are not permitted to strike.

The governor has pledged to include money in his budget proposal for negotiated salary and benefit growth, but the General Assembly is not obliged to approve such spending increases.

The lawsuit filed by the chamber, the GBC and a Washington-area business group sought to undo the governor's order, asserting that he had overstepped his authority by granting bargaining rights after the legislature rejected a similar proposal.

The business leaders and some legislators also argued that collective bargaining would inevitably drive up the cost of government and send an unfavorable signal about Maryland's "business climate."

The suit was dismissed by a judge this year, and the state's highest court rejected an appeal by the business groups Friday.

Glendening, who was furious with business leaders over the suit, said last week that the first round of bargaining produced a "fair" and "fiscally prudent" settlement.

The governor said it was impossible to say whether the raise would have been smaller under the previous system of lobbying, rather than bargaining, by state employee organizations.

He said bargaining allowed the employees to influence how the increase was distributed. Higher percentage raises would go to low-salaried workers under the proposed agreement.

"This helped channel it and make it a more orderly process," Glendening said.

By many accounts, with an election year approaching, state employees would have gotten a raise this year, with or without collective bargaining.

"The pay raise is overdue," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat. "We're talking about social justice here, along with the fact that it is an election year."

One key component of the agreement with public safety employees raised a few eyebrows. Glendening has committed himself to giving the workers a $1,275 annual raise not just next year, but also the following year.

To fulfill the second commitment, Glendening would have to win re-election.

The governor, Sauerbrey surmised, is using that lure to keep public-sector unions in his camp.

"It gives the governor the ability to say, 'See, I got this for you. If you really want it, you better re-elect me,' " Sauerbrey said.

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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