State workers settle on 8% raise

Collective bargaining by 3 employee unions secures 2-year deal

Legislature's OK needed

January 05, 2000|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Maryland state workers are poised to claim a share of the state's nearly $1 billion surplus in the form of an 8 percent pay raise over the next two years.

The Glendening administration and three state employee unions settled on that figure yesterday in collective bargaining talks covering about 35,000 employees. The tentative agreements call for 4 percent raises for each of the next two years.

While the agreements cover only union-represented workers, they are virtually certain to set the pattern for the state's entire work force of 70,000.

"Everyone who's not a member will benefit from this. We know this," said Donna Edwards, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92, Maryland's largest state employee union.

A spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening would not confirm that the administration plans to extend the raises across the board, but said such a move would be consistent with past practice.

The raises would require the approval of the General Assembly, which could have concerns about the cost of the package. If fully implemented, the raises would add about $160 million to the state's annual employment costs.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said the proposed raises came in higher than she expected.

"I hope we can do it. I'm not going to say yes or no without a chance to absorb all the numbers," the Baltimore Democrat said.

Hoffman said state workers deserve such a raise, noting that their salaries continue to lag behind private industry and local governments. "If we can afford to do it, we probably should," she said.

Yesterday's agreements cover some members of AFSCME, the Teamsters and the Maryland Professional Employees Council. Union leaders expressed satisfaction with the terms, which must be ratified by their members.

"This is a decent raise," said Edwards.

She said collective bargaining, introduced by Glendening in 1996 and adopted by the General Assembly last year, "had everything to do" with the favorable outcome for state workers.

Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill would not say whether bargaining had resulted in higher raises than the administration would otherwise have agreed to.

"The governor is a strong supporter of collective bargaining. That's why he worked so hard to get it passed," Morrill said.

The tentative agreements are the first to be negotiated under the new law guaranteeing state workers collective bargaining rights. Previous agreements were negotiated under the governor's 1996 executive order instituting the system.

The terms are especially sweet for higher-salaried employees represented by the professional employees council because the raises are a percentage increase. In the previous collective bargaining agreement, the raises came in flat dollar amounts at all pay levels -- a system that favored lower-paid workers.

"This is definitely structured in a way that's more favorable to the professional employee," said council spokesman Cathleen McCann. She said the money reflected the state's concerns about a drain of skilled workers to higher-paying employers such as county governments, other states and the private sector.

Edwards said the new agreement isn't quite as favorable to her membership as the previous two-year collective bargaining pact. She said the $1,275 annual raises in that agreement worked out to an average of 5 percent a year for her members, who typically hold lower-paid jobs.

But she said the agreement represents a big change from the early and mid-1990s, when state workers frequently received no raises at all.

In order to achieve the 4 percent annual increases, the unions agreed to a postponement of the effective dates of the raises. This year's raise, which typically would take effect July 1, would not come until Nov. 15. The next raise would be postponed six months, to Jan. 1, 2002.

The delays would hold down the cost of the raises in the short term but not in the long run.

Assuming that the first 4 percent raise were applied across the board, the cost would be roughly $50 million in the fiscal 2001 budget, based on figures provided by the Department of Legislative Services.

In fiscal 2002, when the full impact of the first raise would be felt, the cost would rise to about $120 million. After that, the cost of the raises would be about $160 million a year, said Warren G. Deschenaux, director of the General Assembly's Office of Policy Analysis.

Hoffman said that is where her concerns lie. "It's the out years where it gets you," she said.

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