March 10, 2010

Counties resist union for librarians

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By Nick DiMarco
Nick@MarylandReporter.com

Delegates representing nine counties have moved to exempt these jurisdictions from a bill that would make it easier for local librarians to unionize, citing concerns about the costs.

Representatives from nine counties — Allegany, Baltimore, Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Garrett, Harford and St. Mary’s counties — offered amendments to strike their counties from the bill.

Del. Mary-Dulany James, D-Cecil and Harford, was first to voice her opposition on collective bargaining rights for librarians.

“I’m a big proponent of local rights,” James said. “We don’t like it when the federal government tells the states what to do. I don’t think it’s an appropriate role for the state to be telling the local governments how to conduct themselves.”

The lead sponsor, Del. Tom Hucker, D-Montgomery, said the bill would only give librarians the choice, based on a county-by-county vote, to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 union. He said he was aware economic uncertainty had made some counties hesistant.

“Having a union doesn’t just mean imposing costs. It gives workers a voice in the workplace and a safeguard against discrimination,” Hucker said of the library workforce that is 85 percent female .  “No one would come in here and make a straight-faced argument that we should to take away collective bargaining rights from teachers, firefighters and police just because we have a budget deficit issue.”

Montgomery and Prince George’s are the only two counties that have collective bargaining rights for library employees.

More than 20 library representatives and union officials testified for and against the bill Tuesday at a House Appropriations Committee meeting.

Opponents repeatedly noted that limited funding forced by budget cuts would make it difficult to afford the arbitration and court costs associated with the bill. Fair practices for library employees was an internal matter, they said, and some said they felt “badgered” by UFCW.

Kendal Hopkins, representing the Carroll County Public Library Staff Association, said she felt its local organization was enough representation. “This legislation makes us feel like we’re in the middle of everything until the cows come home,” Hopkins said.

Larry Dechter, a librarian of 30 years and member of the American Library Association, took an opposing view.

“Why are these library employees terrified of their employers?” Dechter, a Silver Spring resident, asked. “American liberties should never be up for grabs.”

Del. Susan Aumann, R-Baltimore County, suggested that more counties may opt out of the bill by the end of the week.

“It takes some of the autonomy away from Baltimore County when you do these types of things … It was not something that was needed,” she said.