Maryland's General Assembly leadership, concerned about the state's 8.1 percent unemployment rate and pressed by politically resurgent organized labor, will form a special commission to study new ways to increase the state's job pool.
House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin, who announced the idea here today, said the commission will focus on ways to diversify the state's aging industrial base and will report before the Assembly convenes in January.
Cardin said the commission will include representatives from labor and business, the legislative leadership and the governor's office. Its members will sift through the various proposals for creating new jobs in an effort to give the General Assembly a single, comprehensive jobs program that will include some ideas already espoused by Gov. Harry Hughes during the recent election campaign.
"There's a whole laundry list of suggestions," Cardin said, ranging from the expansion of economic enterprise zones to the creation of a high technology training center to retrain displaced workers and better prepare young persons for a more specialized, computer-oriented job market.
"We want to make jobs expansion a priority for the '83 session," Cardin said. He said the commission can shortcut the General Assembly's often lengthy hearing process.
Thomas Bradley, the AFL-CIO chief lobbyist who led this year's labor resurgence in state politics starting with a successful "Solidarity Day" rally in the spring, praised the idea and the legislature's commitment to jobs.
Rather than concentrating on retraining blue-collar workers for a high-technology job market, Bradley said the emphasis should be on making older industry more viable. For example, he said, the port of Baltimore could be revitalized with new shipping regulation favoring American vessels.
One of the proposals the commission will study is creation of a cabinet-level department of labor and industry, one of organized labor's top priorities for the upcoming session.
Unions, which claim 1.9 million members in the state, have long been a dormant political force, often called "a sleeping giant." This month labor scored several election successes, particularly in some key state Senate races in Baltimore and Baltimore County where incumbents perceived as anti-labor were defeated.
Also today, the governor's Task Force on Youth Employment rejected a sub-minimum wage for teens and strongly backed state tax credits for firms that hire young people and the creation of a nonprofit corporation of industry representatives to provide high school job counseling.