State House goodies

February 24, 1999|By Barry Rascovar

IT'S PAYBACK time in Annapolis. Gov. Parris Glendening is rewarding his friends -- is he ever -- and punishing his enemies. All in the guise of public policy.

Take the governor's goodies for the American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees, known as AFSCME. Christmas is coming real early for this labor union. The governor wants to give AFSCME a giant financial windfall and cement its position as the new powerhouse of unions representing state employees.

Why? Because AFSCME worked overtime to elect Mr. Glendening twice. He repaid the union with an executive order mandating collective bargaining -- despite the legislature's opposition. This allowed AFSCME to out-muscle the older Maryland Classified Employees Association. AFSCME won outright or shares with the Teamsters representation for all state bargaining units.

But the governor claims an executive order isn't good enough. He wants it in the law.

This isn't simply a codification of an existing directive. It is a big jump into unionism for state employees, complete with a powerful State Labor Relations Board.

It puts at least $12 million into AFSCME's treasury this year. It puts under AFSCME's bargaining control -- and potential membership -- 8,800 non-faculty, higher education employees and 1,200 employees in the insurance, assessments and lottery agencies.

It's a major power grab.

At the same time, Mr. Glendening is happy to write the obituary for MCEA, previously the dominant union representing state employees. MCEA has fought the governor's favorable treatment of AFSCME and endorsed Republican Ellen Sauerbrey against the governor last year.

The governor's retribution not only will finish off MCEA, but also will win cheers from AFSCME.

By forcing 60,000 non-union employees to pay AFSCME what's known as an agency fee -- likely to exceed $200 a year per worker -- the governor is padding the union's pockets. MCEA members would be have to pay that $200 fee, too. Not many workers will keep subsidizing both unions.

Mr. Glendening's embrace of AFSCME serves another purpose.

It gives him more leverage in Washington as he jockeys to become chairman of the National Governors' Association and positions himself for a high-level appointment in a Democratic presidential administration in 2001.

AFSCME swings a good deal of weight in national Democratic politics. It could go to bat for its good friend Mr. Glendening.

But there's more. The governor has fashioned an extensive wage package for state employees that totals $112 million.

In addition to a 3.5-percent pay raise, it includes a performance bonus, more longevity increases, a deferred compensation match, and an extra 2-percent boost for any worker who is rated "satisfactory" (virtually everyone in state government qualifies).

Plus, the Glendening budget calls for eventually shifting 10,000 contractual workers to full-time state employment, which will bolster AFSCME's organizing efforts and increase agency fees by at least $300,000 this year and $2 million in the future.

It is a rich, one-year reward. And AFSCME can crow about its influence with the governor in making it happen.

AFSCME is the prime beneficiary of Mr. Glendening's gratitude, but it's not the only one: Teachers, veterans and environmentalists have gotten goodies.

At the same time, the governor has meted out bad news for his foes, including voters in Carroll County. Others who will get a lump of coal: race track owner Joe De Francis, Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke and Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry.

Revenge is sweet. So is divvying up the spoils.

Of course, the legislature could reject the governor's collective-bargaining bill, reduce the governor's wage package and stop the conversion of contractual workers. But Mr. Glendening's message has been delivered. AFSCME may be smiling, but others around the State House are not.

Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor.

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