Governor submits union bill

Proposal would strengthen AFSCME, expand bargaining

A blow to MCEA

18,000 employees at colleges would gain eligibility

January 26, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening proposed a collective bargaining bill last night under which all state employees covered under labor agreements could be required to pay a fee to the union that negotiates their contract -- whether they are members or not.

The bill would allow expansion of state employee collective bargaining rights to about 18,000 nonfaculty employees of state universities. That would increase the number of state workers eligible to work under union contracts from about 42,000 to 60,000.

The proposals go significantly further than Glendening's previously announced plan to submit legislation writing into law his 1996 executive order granting collective bargaining rights to state workers.

The bill does not include a provision for binding arbitration of disputes -- an item the governor was thought to be considering. The fee and university provisions are more than enough to turn a mild collective bargaining bill into a hot-button issue.

"I don't think it's guaranteed to pass. It'll be hard-fought," said Republican Del. Robert H. Kittleman of Howard County, the House minority leader.

Other Republicans charged that the provisions were a "payoff" to unions that backed Glendening in the 1998 election -- especially the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, known as AFSCME. The fee proposal is seen as a potentially mortal blow to the Maryland Classified Employees Association, which backed Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey in the election.

In a brief interview last night, Glendening said he was carrying out a "commitment" he made during the campaign. He defended the concept of requiring all employees in a bargaining unit to pay a fee.

"It seems to me if a person is benefiting from the results of collective bargaining, they ought to in some way share in the costs of the bargaining," Glendening said.

`Agency fee' for nonmembers

The bill would allow a union representing a group of state workers to negotiate a contract provision requiring members of the group to pay an "agency fee" if they don't pay union dues. Such a fee is usually a substantial percentage of union dues but not the full amount.

The provision is seen as a potential windfall for AFSCME because it is the union that won the majority of elections to represent state workers under the 1996 executive order. MCEA, the oldest organization representing Maryland state employees, lost all of the elections it contested.

AFSCME representatives said they were "ecstatic" that the governor had proposed the agency fee and expansion of collective bargaining.

"An agency fee is an important provision to have for a union to be strong," said Kimberlee Keller, AFSCME's area director. "Nearly every state that has a collective bargaining law has a provision that allows the union to negotiate an agency fee."

Henry N. Williams, president of MCEA, said it's "wrong" to require state employees to pay a fee to a union they have chosen not to join. He said MCEA has 9,000 dues-paying members despite not winning bargaining rights in any unit of state government.

Possible MCEA threat

"It threatens the future of MCEA," Williams said.

Williams said MCEA could support an expansion of collective bargaining but would oppose the agency fee -- though he acknowledged that the organization has backed such fees in the past and negotiated such provisions at the local level.

The governor's proposed bill does not include a provision MCEA wants: automatic new elections in every unit created under the executive order.

Instead the bill would "grandfather" existing bargaining units, and require new elections only for new units at state universities.

Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, chairman of the Finance Committee, reacted coolly to the governor's proposal and said collective bargaining bills have traditionally had a hard time in the Senate.

"The bill as it's introduced probably will not look the same if the bill should pass," the Baltimore County Democrat said. "We're going to work with the governor and the House and see what kind of bill we're going to pass, if we pass any bill."

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, has expressed reservations about passing any collective bargaining bill until the results of union talks under the executive order can be fully evaluated.

Del. Robert L. Flanagan, the House minority whip, reacted harshly. "It shows that in Maryland under Parris Glendening, the labor unions rule the Democratic Party," said the Howard County Republican.

Flanagan said state employees' "pockets are being picked by [organized labor] to advance a political agenda they may not agree with."

In Annapolis

Highlights in Annapolis today:

Senate convenes at 11: 45 a.m., Senate chamber.

House of Delegates meets, 11: 45 a.m., House chamber.

Maryland Chief Judge Robert M. Bell gives State of the Judiciary speech, noon, House chamber.

House Environmental Matters Committee has briefing on electric utility deregulation. 1 p.m. Room 160, House office building.

Sun staff writer Gady Epstein contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 1/26/99

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