Sens. Mac Middleton and Gail Bates discuss union contract bill on Senate floor March 23. MarylandReporter.com photo by Glynis Kazanjian.
By Glynis Kazanjian
Republican lawmakers are crying foul over Democratic efforts to pass a bill extending “evergreen” employment terms for thousands of unionized state employees after negotiating parties agreed not to make statutory changes.
The proposed bill, SB654, sponsored by Sen. Jim Mathias, D-Lower Shore, would allow contract terms for approximately 30,000 state employees to stay in place after a negotiated employment contract has expired if the two parties — the state and its public employee unions — are unable to come to an agreement on new terms.
The Senate passed this and several other union-backed measures Monday night in party-line votes of 33-14 on each of them. All 14 GOP senators opposed the bills designed to help the unions in the face of strained relations with the Republican Hogan administration.
A union representative said the law extending employment terms stems from a warning an administration official allegedly made during contract negotiations that the terms could change.
There was no debate on any of the union bills Monday, but in floor debate Friday, Sen. Gail Bates, R-Carroll, and Howard, said, “The state and the unions agreed not to seek statutory changes in working conditions that have been mandatory subjects of bargaining when such changes have not been subject to the bargaining process.”
Bates said the bill would be putting something in the contract that was never bargained.
“This is a prospective bill that provides protection in the future,” Mathias said. “This bill has nothing to do with the current contract.”
But Finance Chair Thomas “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles, agreed that the current agreement between the administration and union employee representatives referred to as the Memorandum of Understanding stated unions would agree not to make statutory changes for matters that were not collectively bargained for.
“That is in the agreement, that is true,” Middleton said. “This is the Finance Committee that has reported this bill. We are the ones proposing this change to the law. There’s no way the union or the Department of Budget and Management can bind us.”
Protecting employment terms
A representative from AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the bill is necessary because the administration made last-minute changes to its legal interpretation during contract negotiations. Under state law, negotiations had to be completed by Dec. 31, 2017.
“This bill does not, absolutely not, violate that MOU,” AFSCME representative Sue Esty said.
“[The administration] is the one who suddenly said in the last half of December that in their view, they now believed that in spite of what the law says, that we hadn’t reached an agreement in both economic and non-economic matters by the end of the year. And if we did not, they would make changes unilaterally without an agreement.”
Esty said part of the law says all items that require an appropriation of funds must be negotiated by Dec. 31.
“That’s what that law says,” Esty said. “It does not address any issue that does not require an appropriation of funds. Any issue that does not require an appropriation of funds in our view could be negotiated until resolved. Management decided to interpret the law differently than it had ever been interpreted for the last 20 years.”
Esty said the union never agreed to not seek legislation about a condition of employment, like how to call in sick, for example, which is procedural.
“That is why we were upset and why we talked to Sen. Mathias about the bill,” Esty said.
Mathias said the intent of the legislation is to bring the parties together to negotiate in good faith.
“These evergreen clauses are in existence in other counties in the state and other states,” Mathias said. “The way it was explained to me [is] they want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. It creates leverage on the part of either side to get it right the first time.”
Administration opposes bill
A March 8 Department of Budget and Management position paper stated the administration opposes the bill because it says the bill diminishes the negotiation process and negates the need for the union to negotiate with the state.
“It violates the terms of the newly negotiated MOUs whereby the State and the unions agreed ‘not to seek statutory changes in working conditions that are mandatory subjects of bargaining when such changes have not been subject to the bargaining process’,” the letter read. “The provisions in this bill far exceed the rights unions have under federal labor law which allows an employer to implement its final offer after impasse.”
According to a March 15 legal opinion requested by DBM Director of Personnel Services Cindy Kollner, if a legitimate impasse has occurred between the two parties, the “employer can unilaterally implement changes to terms and conditions to employment” with certain reasonable limits.
There are also protections to keep in place “status quo” employment terms during good faith bargaining after an MOU has expired, according to the legal opinion.
“Ms. Kollner was simply stating what happens when there is no agreement, which is consistent with federal law,” DBM spokesman Eric Shirk said. “In fact, these concepts have been recognized and applied by the Maryland State Labor Relations Board in various published opinions.”
The Senate also passed the House version of the Mathias bill, HB864, sponsored by Del. Aruna Miller, D-Montgomery, which passed the House March 15 with similar Republican opposition. That bill is now headed to the governor’s desk.
Contacting new hires
The other bills passed by the Senate would eliminate the right of a new state employee to opt-out of being contacted by a labor union representative within 30 days of being hired.
SB677, sponsored by Sen. Rich Madaleno, and its House companion bill HB1017, sponsored by Del. Marc Korman, both Montgomery County Democrats, would require officials from all state agencies and state universities and colleges to provide contact information of all new employees to collective bargaining units for the purposes of contacting the new hires within 30 days.
SB819, also sponsored by Madaleno, and its House companion bill, HB811, sponsored by Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, would require the same contact information from all Maryland public school employers.
The bills would require the employer to provide employee contact information including the employee’s name, position classification, home and work address, home and work telephone numbers, personal cell phone number and work and personal email address.
Under state law, union representatives are required to contact new state employees to educate the new hire on benefits of being a union member. New state employees, however, are not required to join a union.
MarylandReporter.com is a daily news website produced by journalists committed to making state government as open, transparent, accountable and responsive as possible – in deed, not just in promise. We believe the people who pay for this government are entitled to have their money spent in an efficient and effective way, and that they are entitled to keep as much of their hard-earned dollars as they possibly can.