After two years of study and hundreds of hours of testimony by management and labor leaders, a legislative task force has come up with a public employees collective bargaining bill that hardly anyone likes.
The debacle was never more apparent than at a hearing here yesterday when 30 witnesses lined up to protest the collective bargaining proposal - including all major public employee unions in Maryland - and no one stood up for it.
Presently in Maryland, more than half the state's employees from all elementary and secondary teachers to municpal staffs in Rockville and Annapolis - have collective bargaining privileges.
But 17 separate laws enacted by the General Assembly or county or city Councils govern these various agreements, fostering a "proliferation" of bargaining arrangements of "uneven character and quality," the task force found.
The draft bill is an attempt to extend collective bargaining options to all public employes and streamline the present patchwork of bargaining laws.
Labor leaders oppose it because they see the draft bill as management-oriented and providing no "equitable" method of procedure for resolution of bargaining impasses.
"This bill does not take into account any of the problems we've had over the past 10 years (of collective bargaining) in Maryland," Peta Traibley, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, said in an interview.
Treibley and other labor sponsors contend that arbitration, in which disputes are submitted to a third party for resolution, is vital for fairness in agreements. In addition, they want the right to strike.
Management, however, conjuring memories of the crippling two-week garbage workers' strike in Baltimore four years ago, among other examples, tried to convince the joint committee that there is no compelling reason for the proposed legislation.
"You'll find in Maryland exactly the kind of situation you find in New York City and you're going to regret it," warned Earle K. Shawe, a Baltimore lawyer. "If you want that kind of chaos, then pass the bill."
Among those testifying against the bill was Henry B. Bosz, state personnel director, who noted that acting Gov. Blair Lee also opposes the legislation.
Del. Ann Hull (D-Prince Georges), who chaired the collective bargaining task force already has conceded defeat for the bill this year. However, said Hull, "It's pretty clear to me we're going to have collective bargaining to an increasing degree across the state. If we don't get some uniform structure now, we'll never have it because each group will go its own way."
For example, this year the Montgomery County legislators are considering a host of requests for collective bargaining privileges from substitute teachers, county employes in general, teachers at Montgomery Community College and staffs of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
Under county law, each group needs a separate authorization from the Assembly for collective bargaining.
The substitute teachers bill was introduced in the legislature, but the future of the others is uncertain, according to county legislatures.
As an alternative to the Hull proposal, public employe unions in Maryland said they will submit a stronger pro-labor bill. Yet, Del. Alex Bell (D-Montgomery), a union construction worker, conceded that pro-labor forces inside the legislature don't have the votes to lead that proposal anywhere, either.
"There are a lot of people here who support collective bargaining in the private sector but when it comes to public employes, it's a different story," Bell said.