March 29, 2010

Union bills for teachers, child care workers pass Senate

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By Nick DiMarco
Nick@MarylandReporter.com

Public school teachers and child care providers may soon get expanded collective bargaining rights despite two last-gasp pleas from Republican senators to kill the union bills.

Both measures passed the Senate with little debate Monday afternoon, but the Republican sentiment remained, “it’s just wrong.” Supporters argue that the measures would help workers receive fairer treatment.

The bill that would allow child care providers to unionize passed first. Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, said it was among among the “top-10 most abusive bills” that he had encountered during his time in the Senate. Republicans in both Houses said the bill could cost business owners their jobs.

“These are small, independent businesses trying to take care of the children of Maryland. They were operating on their own. All they wanted was to be paid fairly and paid promptly,” Pipkin said. “That’s something we should be able to do for them. Instead, the governor injected a union into the process and now for them to get that, they have to be part of a union if they want to participate.”

Child care workers will not be forced to join Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 500 — the designated bargaining unit — under the bill. Pipkin still expressed distaste for the union’s involvement, established by a 2007 executive order by Gov. Martin O’Malley.

“There’s all free will involved,”said Sen. Robert Garagiola, D-Montgomery.  “If you don’t want to participate, you don’t pay the dues. It’s a simple bill,”

While SEIU is the exclusive unit for negotiations, a vote will take place every three years to select a union.

A similar bill passed the House of Delegates March 22.

Public school teachers followed child care providers on the Senate’s agenda.

Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Carroll and Howard counties, presented written opposition from seven counties, the Public School Superintendents Association, the State Board of Education and the Maryland Association of Counties. They all disagree with a bill creating an independent unit to handle negotiations for teachers.

He complained that the board would be composed of non-elected officials, usurping the decision-making powers of elected officials.

“Clearly it’s a bad thing for the counties. It’s a bad thing for students. It’s a bad thing for teachers themselves. It’s only good for teachers unions and it’s unfortunate they succumb to the teachers unions’ pressure,” Kittleman said.

Senate Finance Chairman Thomas Mac Middleton, D-Charles, has written off critics to the teachers bill in the past, suggesting that some people “just don’t like unions.” He said that control wouldn’t be the issue Kittleman made it out to be.

“Both parties will have to negotiate in good faith,” said Middleton.

A similar House bill is before the House Ways and Committee, which is chaired by lead sponsor Del. Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery.