By Megan Poinski
Unionized workers filled the Senate Finance Committee hearing room and the third floor of the Miller Building on Wednesday afternoon to urge committee members to kill a bill that they said would deal a crushing blow to the state’s unions.
The bill, sponsored by Howard County Republican Sen. Allan Kittleman, would make Maryland a “right-to-work” state. This means that employers in the private sector could not require employees to join unions, discriminate against employees based on their union membership, or force employees who choose not to join unions to make any payments to the union. It would not have any impact on unions representing state or local government employees.
Kittleman said that he was responding to what he heard repeatedly while on the campaign trail: the state needs more jobs. “Right-to-work” states, he said, tend to have more job growth and higher wages, and this move seems like the best way to get more people working in the state.
He also said the bill is a simple matter of freedom.
“It allows an employee to work without fear of discrimination for joining a union or not joining a union,” Kittleman said.
However, union members said the bill would hurt the state as a whole, and vehemently opposed it. They labeled it a “right to work for less” measure and a “race to the bottom” bill.
“We believe this bill is a part of a virus that is attempting to find fertile ground in legislatures all over the country,” said Frank Mason, president of the Maryland state and Washington, D.C. AFL-CIO. “I urge that we kill it ASAP.”
Union members, who filled most of the seats in the hearing room, responded with applause, but they were quickly shushed by security guards.
Using more strong rhetoric, Mason said the bill is trying to “kill unions.”
Joslyn Williams, the Washington Metro Council AFL-CIO President said the bill would be lowering the standard of living in the state. Williams said average workers in right-to-work states make $5,300 less than elsewhere. Additionally, he said, women and minorities earn lower wages in right-to-work states.
Vance Ayers, executive director of DC Building Trades Council, said that the bill could have a disastrous impact on the economy. When average workers get higher wages, more money circulates in the economy, Ayers said.
Kittleman didn’t see it that way.
“The bill just says you don’t have to join,” he said.
Only two business lobbyists gave perfunctory support to Kittleman’s legislation.