House committee members skeptical about collective bargaining proposal

February 24, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposed collective bargaining law received a skeptical reception from a House committee yesterday as members zeroed in on a provision that could require state employees to pay a fee to the union that represents them.

At a hearing that pitted union against union, administration officials proclaimed Maryland's 2-year-old experiment with collective bargaining a success.

Budget Secretary Frederick W. Puddester told the House Appropriations Committee that despite predictions bargaining would mean "the end of the Western world," it has improved communications between the state and its work force.

"I think it is a positive outcome to actually sit down and listen to employees," Puddester said. He was testifying in favor of Glendening's proposal to write into law the governor's 1996 executive order establishing limited collective bargaining.

The bill would also extend collective bargaining rights to nonfaculty members of the state university system and solidify the exclusive role of the unions that win representation elections.

Puddester spoke before a hearing packed with rival activists from the state's two leading public employee unions.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees massed in the center of the visitor seats, sporting bright green shirts and baseball caps. Maryland Classified Employees Association lobbyists grabbed the flanks, wearing oversized yellow-and-black buttons proclaiming "No Agency Fee."

The buttons referred to a proposal in the governor's bill that would allow unions that have won elections to negotiate contract provisions requiring all workers they represent to pay a fee of about $200 a year for that service.

That provision is widely believed to favor AFSCME, the AFL-CIO affiliate that won elections to represent six of the nine bargaining units set up under the executive order. MCEA, which lost all of the elections it contested, sees the agency fee proposal as a threat.

Steve Kreisberg, assistant director of AFSCME's research department, said 23 of the 26 states that permit their employees to bargain collectively allow or require agency fees.

But even legislators usually sympathetic to labor balked at requiring state workers to pay a fee as a condition of keeping their jobs. Del. Frank S. Turner, a Howard County Democrat who said he has been an AFSCME member for 10 years, said the provision made him "uncomfortable."

Pub Date: 2/24/99

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