Unionized state employees gathered in Annapolis yesterday to mark the recent signing of Maryland's first comprehensive statewide contracts for its workers and to thank the governor who made it possible.
The delayed celebration came weeks after negotiators for the state and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Maryland's largest public employee union, hammered out the final details of the agreements in June.
The contracts include new sections dealing with noneconomic workplace rules as well as economic issues agreed to last year.
The agreements, which took almost three years of negotiation, are the first to take into account all of the issues in bargaining and the first negotiated under the state's new collective bargaining law passed last year.
About four dozen AFSCME negotiators gathered on the State House steps for a picture with management officials. They were joined by a broadly smiling Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who first instituted state employee bargaining in 1996 by executive order amid considerable disapproval.
Glendening, who has been keeping a low in-state profile this week after reports of marital discord, appeared relaxed and at home among the union activists, who are among his strongest supporters.
In brief remarks, he alluded to the dire predictions made by opponents of collective bargaining when he first issued the executive order.
"Let us show our critics that you can have your employees involved in decision-making," Glendening said. "You can involve the employees at the table and be fiscally responsible."
The collective bargaining law, like the executive order that preceded it, forbids state employee strikes.
The economic issues agreed upon in last year's partial agreement, including two consecutive years of 4 percent cost-of-living raises, have already won General Assembly approval as part of Glendening's budget.
What's new about the comprehensive agreements, AFSCME officials said, are rules that will give state employees a louder voice in the workplace.
One provision will create labor-management committees to discuss workplace policies in each agency. Another will give workers the right to request union representation when they are called in by a supervisor for a conversation that could lead to disciplinary action.
Donna Edwards, president of AFSCME Council 92, predicted that the results will be positive for taxpayers as well as state workers.
"What we're going to see is a more productive work force, maybe a happier work force," she said. "I think you'll see that things will be a bit more efficient."
Edwards estimated that the agreements will cover 35,000 state employees - about one-third of them AFSCME members - in six bargaining units.
Ruth Ogle, president of the rival Maryland Classified Employees Association, said she doubts whether state workers will be any better off as a result of the agreements.
"It's a modest start. I don't know that I would celebrate it," Ogle said.