Labor bill loses punch

Senate committee cuts union fee, excludes some UM employees

Governor calls it `victory'

But panel weakened Glendening's plan for collective bargaining

April 07, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

A Senate committee severely weakened Gov. Parris N. Glendening's bill guaranteeing collective bargaining for state employees by voting yesterday to exclude 8,000 nonfaculty workers in the University System of Maryland.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the collective bargaining bill but the amendment deprives organized labor of one of its biggest gains in the bill proposed by the governor and approved by the House of Delegates.

As changed by the Senate panel, the bill includes two other amendments supported by critics of Glendening's labor policies -- reducing the governor's bill to little more than his 1996 executive order granting collective bargaining rights to state employees.

Supporters of the bill argue that bargaining under the executive order has been a success, leading to improved labor relations between state government and its work force. Opponents contend that writing the provision into law damages the state's business climate and ties the hands of future governors.

The governor's proposal went much further than the bill that will be debated on the Senate floor. Not only did it expand bargaining to the university system, it allowed unions to impose a fee on all state workers they represent.

This "agency fee" provision -- widely seen as a reward to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for its election support -- was dropped by the House after widespread protests from state workers.

The House did approve language directing the Board of Regents to adopt a plan for collective bargaining in the state university system.

The Finance Committee eliminated that provision on a 6-5 vote, with Chairman Thomas L. Bromwell casting the deciding vote. The Baltimore County Democrat was joined by Sen. John C. Astle, an Anne Arundel Democrat, and the panel's four Republicans.

By the same margin, the committee adopted an amendment prohibiting negotiations of an "agency fee." The House-passed bill does not explicitly preclude such fees. Another successful amendment asserts the legislature's right to approve negotiated agreements.

Sen. Martin G. Madden, the minority leader, said he plans to offer another amendment on the Senate floor that would give unions that lose representation elections the same workplace access as winners. That would address a vehement complaint of the Maryland Classified Employees Association, which has lost all elections it contested.

Glendening released a statement claiming "a victory for the thousands of state employees who work so hard every day to support themselves and their families."

The governor promised to work with the House and Senate to restore the university system provision to the bill. Opponents of that proposal argue that it contradicts the General Assembly's goal of granting the system more autonomy.

Sue Esty, AFSCME's chief lobbyist in Annapolis, said the university issue would be decided in a conference committee between the House and Senate.

Esty said it would be "sad" if university employees were treated differently from other state employees. "They should not be treated as the stepchildren of the state," she said.

Jonathan Carpenter, the lobbyist for MCEA, said his union also wants collective bargaining for university workers. But he expressed pleasure with the Senate bill, particularly the ban on agency fees.

"Right now, the bill is really good for state employees," Carpenter said.

Pub Date: 4/07/99

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