Union elections reported assured

Enough employees on 3 state campuses sign petitions

September 01, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Labor organizers say they have collected enough employee signatures at three state campuses to prompt union elections, two months after a state law took effect allowing collective bargaining at Maryland's public colleges and universities.

However, it will be at least a month before any votes on union representation are scheduled on state college campuses because the board set up to oversee the process isn't ready.

The professional and service staffs at Baltimore City Community College and at University of Maryland University College, the state's continuing education school, have produced the requisite petitions to cause elections, said Joseph M. Lawrence, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which is trying to organize the campuses.

The service staff at Frostburg State University also has collected enough signatures -- 30 percent of the staff -- to call an election, Lawrence said. Several other campuses are nearing the required minimum, but he wouldn't say which they were.

"Once the law took effect, a number of schools took off like wildfire," he said. "There is a movement going on across the state."

But the board created by the new law to oversee union elections at campuses, which met yesterday for the first time, declined to accept the petitions from the three schools, saying it hadn't had a chance to establish election guidelines. Lawrence said he expects the board to accept the petitions at its next session, Oct. 1, and schedule elections for several months later.

The law, which passed with the support of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, extends collective-bargaining rights to about 10,000 janitors, clerical workers, counselors, and other non-faculty professionals in the state university system and at three public schools outside the system -- Baltimore City Community College, Morgan State University and St. Mary's College.

Common bargaining unit

Under the law, each school will negotiate pay and working conditions with its own work force, but presidents at several campuses are considering joining as a common bargaining unit.

Sally Davies, a program coordinator at University College, said the high number of signatures at her office is proof that employees are seeking more of a say in how the school is run.

`Free exchange of ideas'

"The free exchange of ideas in a university system is really at play here," she said. "People work at a university hoping for that, and that's what we're getting now."

Francis Canavan, a spokesman for the university system, said there haven't been any complaints yet from administrators that organizing is getting in the way of school business.

"From the standpoint of the campuses, they're making sure they continue to run smoothly, and that they continue to do their job, that the work is not disrupted," he said.

"This is to one degree or another a modest challenge, but they are handling it well," Canavan said.

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