The figures show that MCEA's drop was especially precipitous in the wake of the 1996-1997 representation elections held under Glendening's 1996 executive order instituting collective bargaining. MCEA lost all eight elections it contested, most by margins of 2-to-1 or 3-to-1.
MCEA caught unprepared
Williams, elected in the wake of the losses, conceded that MCEA failed to do an effective job of countering AFSCME's campaign.
But Williams said MCEA was unprepared for the Glendening administration's effort at enforcing a strict interpretation of the role of "exclusive" bargaining agent.
Last summer, the administration sent directives to its departments telling managers to deny MCEA access to union bulletin boards, orientations and health fairs. Over MCEA's protests, it gave staff members for the bargaining agents exclusive access to work sites not open to the public.
The administration's stand helped persuade MCEA to endorse Sauerbrey, who voiced sympathy for the organization, despite the Republican's coolness toward unions in general.
State Budget Secretary Frederick W. Puddester said the decision was fair. "Being an exclusive rep means being an exclusive rep," he said. If MCEA had won, Puddester said, it would have been the first to insist that AFSCME be excluded.
MCEA's problems have been compounded by a decline in its influence in the Democratic-controlled legislature -- which did not appreciate its flirtation with Sauerbrey.
On most Monday nights during the legislative session, the lobbies and halls of the State House complex are crowded with AFSCME members, with few MCEA representatives in sight.
Rawlings, a critic of the governor's collective bargaining bills, said AFSCME's Sue Esty is the most effective lobbyist in Annapolis for state employee concerns.
"Part of the problem is MCEA's ineptitude," Rawlings said.
Glendening's agency fee proposal -- widely seen as payment of a political debt rather than a serious initiative -- seems to be generating little support. Leading legislators might doubt that MCEA can hang on much longer, but they seem disinclined to speed its demise.
"MCEA is on its deathbed with a respirator," Rawlings said. "Whether there is a successful cure will come about to the extent that their will to live and survive is strong."
Pub Date: 2/21/99