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State senator chides union for 'duplicitous' service fee

January 27, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — As state government employees near a new contract agreement in Maryland, a Washington County state senator is criticizing the union that negotiated the deal.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, Thursday accused the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees of being "duplicitous" and not clearly explaining a mandatory fee contained in a tentative state contract agreement.

Shank said the "service fee" AFSCME will receive from state employees — even those who don't belong to the union — is buried in "double speak" in a list of the contract's highlights.

But Patrick Moran, the director of AFSCME in Maryland, disputed Shank's allegation and accused him of "junk rhetoric," saying the information has been clearly and readily available to all employees for weeks.

Through a 2009 state law dubbed "The Fair Share Act," collective bargaining organizations won the right to charge "service fees" for contracts they negotiate, even if employees covered in the contracts don't belong to the bargaining organizations.

The tentative contract agreement for state employees includes a section labeled "service fee," which states that employees covered in the contract will be charged a fee that will "not exceed the amount of dues uniformly required of AFSCME members."

Moran said everyone who benefits from the contract should share the cost of the representation in the negotiations.

Shank, however, said he opposes forcing employees to pay for representation they don't necessarily want or need.

AFSCME represents about 22,000 Maryland employees, including correctional officers, Moran said.

Shank said in a news release Thursday about 12,000 employees covered by the contract are not AFSCME members.

The tentative contract agreement calls for an end to furlough days, which the state had used in recent years to save money.

The pact would give employees a $750 bonus starting on July 1 of this year, a 2 percent raise in 2013 and a 3 percent raise in 2014, plus a step increase, if revenue projections hold up.

Other highlights include no increase in health care premiums, no discrimination because of pregnancy and more protections for union activities, according to a summary sheet.

State employees are supposed to vote on ratifying the tentative agreement by Monday. Votes are scheduled to be counted on Wednesday.

Under the heading "Measures to Allow Greater Union Participation and Stronger Union Representation," the summary sheet reads: "All state employees will receive the benefits of the new contract and representation by the union and all state employees will share the cost of union representation to ensure the state abides by the contract and respects workers' rights."

Moran said that refers to service fees.

Shank said the union spells out other provisions of the contract in plain language, but not that one.

Unless employees read through the contract, they might be surprised when they find out they must pay AFSCME as much as $400 per year for its representation, Shank said.

"Just level with people," he said.

Moran countered by asking Shank if he is also criticizing the Maryland Troopers Association, which has the same language in its contract, or will only bash state employees who aren't troopers.

Shank said he hasn't seen the troopers association's contract language, but he doesn't think it would be as "duplicitous." He said he consistently votes against bills with similar "agency fees."

No one at the Maryland Troopers Association could be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

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