By Megan Poinski
State workers have until Monday to vote on the second union contract that enforces the controversial “fair share” law, allowing state government unions to require non-union members to pay them a service fee. The law passed in 2009.
The new memorandum of understanding between the state government and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees includes the service fee, as does the recently negotiated contract with the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance.
SLEOLA’s contract has been ratified by its membership, while employees are still voting on AFSCME’s contract.
The theory behind the law is that the union furnishes services that impact all employees, such as negotiating health benefits and work conditions, or representing workers in disputes with managers. Those who don’t join the union and pay union dues have to pay a fee for that representation.
No one had a solid estimate of what those fees would amount to or how much they would raise in total.
Secretary of State John McDonough, who led Gov. Martin O’Malley’s team in both negotiations, said that since the law was passed, the provision went into both contracts easily. It was not a point of contention.
SLEOLA President Jimmy Dulay also said that there was no problem getting the provision in their contract. SLEOLA represents almost all state law enforcement agencies. These include the Maryland State Police, Park Rangers, Fire Marshals and Internal Investigative Unit for the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. It also represents police for the state’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulations; Natural Resources Department; Capitol and General Services Department; Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; and Motor Vehicle Administration.
SLEOLA’s contract was negotiated at the end of 2010, and the service provision goes into effect July 1.
Dulay said that the SLEOLA contract has the fair share provision in a little more detail than the law that allows it, but that’s all. While SLEOLA represents a variety of officers, more than half don’t belong to the union. There has been no pushback about the contract and the fair share provision from them, Dulay said.
“The contract was ratified by over 90%,” he said.
Employees covered by the contract will get a letter notifying them of the change in May, Dulay said. The amount of the fair share payment has not yet been decided, but Dulay said it will be less than dues for union members.
AFSCME negotiated the fair share clause in its new contract proposal, which is currently being voted on by employees. AFSCME has about 24,000 members, and represents the majority of state employees.
AFSCME Executive Director Patrick Moran said that service fee provisions are common in private sector union contracts across the state, and everyone at the negotiating table was familiar with it. Not much time was spent hashing out the details, he said.
“The more important things in the contract, like ending furloughs, are what we spent a tremendous amount of time on,” said Moran.
Voting on the contract is still going on, but Moran said he’s heard mostly positive feedback. Nobody has commented on the fees, he said.
Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington County, who has many state employees in his district, said that the information about the fees should have been communicated more plainly by AFSCME. Shank said the one-page summary AFSCME put out about the contract was not clear. It says that “all state employees will share the cost of union representation.”
“It’s Orwellian doublespeak,” Shank said. “Everyone is going to share the cost of this. Why not indicate that everyone will pay the service fee?”
Shank said that he is against any sort of service fee, but opponents “lost the battle” in the 2009 legislature. He said he heard no complaints about SLEOLA’s fair share fee in their contract.
Moran brushed off Shank’s attacks, saying that the senator has “an ideological axe to grind.” he stressed that the union has not been hiding anything.
David Boschert, executive director of the Maryland Classified Employees Association, also protested the fees when they were before the General Assembly. Two years ago, he gave up the fight against them.
“We have to accept the reality that we lost, and now it is state law,” Boschert said. “We will abide by it.”