By Megan Poinski
The service fees authorized by a 2009 state law range from $161 to $388 a year. They were negotiated as part of the most recent contracts for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance. Both contracts went into effect July 1.
The fees are based on the theory that the unions furnish services that impact all employees. These services include 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.
AFSCME represents 21,000 employees throughout state government, and about 8,500 of them are members of the union.
Sue Esty, associate director of AFSCME Maryland, said that the fee will start coming out of non-members’ paychecks during the first entire pay period in the new fiscal year, which began Friday. Members’ dues are $14.96 a pay period. Most non-members will also have to pay $14.96 a pay period, though non-members who object to the union’s political activities will be paying just $10.80 out of each paycheck. Additionally, non-members who object to paying the union on religious grounds will either have their money donated to a nonprofit, or not have to pay.
AFSCME representatives said that there are still ongoing negotiations that may lower fees for non-members. The new fees are expected to generate over $4 million for the union.
Esty said that in the months between the contract ratification and now, AFSCME staff has been busy with an informational campaign about it. Thousands of pieces of correspondence were sent out, 70 work site meetings were held, and four large town hall meetings were scheduled to talk about the change that was coming. More than 1,000 employees opted to join AFSCME during the educational period.
“They were told that they have the option to join or not join,” Esty said. “Many of them, as a result of that, said, ‘Why not join?’”
Out of the rest of the employees represented by the union, 610 have objected on political grounds, and will be paying $10.80 per paycheck. And 325 have claimed religious exemptions.
Esty said that during the educational period, AFSCME staff explained exactly what had been negotiated in the contract – including an end to unpaid furloughs, a $750 bonus, scheduled raises, and planned cost-of-living adjustments. Esty said that these are “huge things” for employees, and encouraged more support of the union.
“The fact that collective bargaining works impressed a lot of people,” she said.
The additional money that the union will receive from the service fee will help the union do more than just collective bargaining, Esty said. It will help establish more shop stewards – at least one at every job site. The funds will also be used for educational purposes, to help employees know what their rights are, and to start and cultivate formal labor management committees at work sites.
“We will finally have enough resources to do our job effectively,” she said.
State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance represents about 1,800 law enforcement officers in the Maryland State Police, Maryland Park Rangers, State Fire Marshals, the internal investigation unit of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, and police from the departments of Labor, Licensing and Regulation; Natural Resources; General Services; Health and Mental Hygiene; and the Motor Vehicle Administration. SLEOLA President Jimmy Dulay said that about 800 of them are union members.
SLEOLA dues are $10 per pay period, Dulay said. With the service fee, non-union members will be paying $6.21 out of their paychecks. He was not sure at the end of last week how much political and religious objectors would be paying; they still have about a week to register objections, he said.
Dulay said that the service fee has also caused a bump in new union membership, though the numbers are not quite as large as AFSCME’s. By the end of last week, he estimated that 40 to 50 new members had joined so far.
There has been little resistance to paying the fee among law enforcement officers, Dulay said. He estimates that the fee will raise about $150,000 more for the union this year. The money will be used to bolster union services and most likely to put a legal plan in place to protect members from complaints and lawsuits that rise from the nature of their work.
“Our paying members are just glad to see those who continue to benefit from the union supporting it,” Dulay said.