Bargaining moves closer for colleges

Efforts to change bill aiding workers defeated in Senate

`We'll get it through'

Opponents say right given to employees could harm system

April 05, 2001|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposal to extend collective bargaining rights to employees at Maryland's public colleges cleared a key hurdle yesterday when the Senate handily defeated a series of amendments aimed at killing the bill.

The Senate is expected to take up the measure for a final vote today.

Although opponents promise a lengthy debate -- perhaps a filibuster -- supporters say they're confident the measure will win passage by the end of the day.

"I think we'll have an extensive discussion, but we'll get it through," said Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

If approved, about 10,000 janitors, clerical workers and other support personnel on the state's campuses would join Maryland's other public employees in earning the right to negotiate such issues as wages, benefits and working conditions -- a major component of the governor's pro-labor agenda.

The House of Delegates has easily approved similar collective bargaining legislation in the past, and House leaders expected that the measure under consideration by the Senate would pass this year.

In yesterday's 90-minute debate, opponents -- led by Sen. Robert R. Neall, an Anne Arundel County Democrat -- warned that extending collective bargaining to college employees would damage the independence of Maryland's higher education system and the collaborative nature of its campuses.

"The bill as introduced ran roughshod over the autonomy act of the university system," Neall said. "It was a blunt instrument."

But supporters of collective bargaining say nonfaculty, nonmanagerial employees deserve the right to have union representation in the university system, as well as at the three state schools outside the system -- Baltimore City Community College, Morgan State University and St. Mary's College.

"I think we should vote this bill and move it along," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's Democrat. "There are a lot of working people whose lives depend on it."

Though the university system has opposed such legislation in the past, officials this year -- under heavy pressure from the governor -- have generally muted their opposition.

The University System of Maryland Board of Regents gave its approval in February, though it was by a divided vote and amid some protests about the governor's heavy lobbying.

"There are concerns across the nation about the politicization of higher education in Maryland," Neall said. "People outside the state are wondering what is happening to us."

Tied up in two committees

The proposed legislation spent weeks tied up in two Senate committees, as senators haggled over amendments.

The Finance Committee supported the bill, 9-1, but the Budget and Taxation Committee opposed it, 7-6.

Among the biggest changes made in committee was the exclusion of several thousand contract employees -- some of whom have been working for years on temporary contracts without benefits. But language in the budget approved by the General Assembly this week puts pressure on the schools to convert more of the contract workers to full-time employees.

Action if bill is approved

If legislation is approved, elections would be held on the campuses for permanent employees to decide whether to authorize a union as their agent to negotiate wages and working conditions.

Strikes would not be permitted.

Employees of public university systems in 24 other states, representing more than half the nation's public universities, have collective bargaining rights, according to union officials.

Glendening said he has made collective bargaining a priority because he remembers talking to the custodians and other workers who cleaned his classrooms and office during his days as a political science professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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