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Bargaining bill draws questions

February 23, 1999

ANNAPOLIS (AP) - Lawmakers took aim Tuesday at Gov. Parris Glendening's collective bargaining bill, with complaints about possible disruptions in government services.

Administration officials told the House Appropriations Committee the bill prohibits strikes or lockouts. But Del. Howard ''Pete'' Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who heads the committee, suggested that workers could collectively call in sick in protest, like pilots at American Airlines.

Among those at the hearing in Annapolis were state workers from Washington County.

Two weeks ago, more than a dozen Washington County members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees lobbied Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, to support the bill.

Hecht, who sits on the Appropriations Committee which is reviewing the collective bargaining bill, said she isn't convinced that a union is the best way to solve state government employees' problems.

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Del. Martha Klima, R-Baltimore County, noted that the bill allows workers such as prison guards to refuse to serve in hazardous conditions.

''Over the years, I have heard many, many complaints about conditions at prisons,'' she said.

Union officials acknowledged that workers could refuse to work in unsafe areas, as is already allowed under federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

But union and administration officials said concerns about work stoppages are unwarranted. Under two years of Glendening's order for collective bargaining, discussions helped clear the air about work rules and grievances.

''It's been positive both for employees and for us, the employer,'' Budget Secretary Fred Puddester said.

Glendening issued an executive order establishing collective bargaining in 1996, after lawmakers refused to approve it. Now he is pushing for a law to strengthen the process.

Other changes between the bill and the order would create a Labor Relations Board to help settle disputes with non-binding arbitration and a provision to include non-faculty university workers.

Legislative complaints also focused on a high-profile dispute about fees the bill would create that could apply to nonunion members. The bill would allow unions to negotiate for fees from non-members in the same bargaining units to spread the costs of negotiations.

Every worker in a bargaining unit would get to vote on the fees before they were adopted. The fees are expected to total $200 per year per worker, Puddester said.

But the fees intensified the rivalry between the Maryland Classified Employees Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which are competing to represent workers.

At the hearing, AFSCME members wore green T-shirts and caps and MCEA supporters wore yellow pins that said, ''NO agency fee.''

The bill would allow state employees to chose a bargaining unit and would require them to pay a fee to the union. AFSCME won elections to become exclusive representatives with the state in six of nine bargaining units that total about 35,000 workers. With only about 10,000 dues-paying members in each union, MCEA officials are worried that its membership will suffer if AFSCME wins fees from all workers in the units it represents.

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