A House committee Tuesday approved a watered-down collective-bargaining bill that the largest state employes union immediately labeled a "hoax" and the second largest union called a "step in the right direction."

The bill was approved 14 to 7 by the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee. It provides state employes with a form of collective bargaining, but would require that agreements be submitted to the governor and General Assembly for approval. The governor would not even be required to put money in the budget to pay for agreed-upon wage increases.

"That's no better than we have now," said Joseph Adler, executive director of the Maryland Classified Employees Association, which claims a membership of 22,000 state workers. "This bill is a hoax."

The bill does not allow for binding arbitration in the event of an impasse in negotiations. It would allow only for fact-finders to review the positions of both sides and issue an advisory recommendation. It also prohibits strikes.

"Admittedly it's not an ideal bill, but at least it's a start," said Bill Bolander, associate director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Maryland. The union says it has 12,000 state workers as members.

"A fact-finder, if he comes out in the employes' favor, that places additional pressure on the employer," said Bolander. "Right now we don't have any say. This will give us a better case to present to the legislature."

Adler disagreed.

"Fact-finding itself is meaningless without it having some kind of weight. All it is, is someone issuing a report," said Adler. "There's nothing in this bill that gives state employes any additional benefits."

The classified employes association is also opposed to the bill because it would require elections to be held to determine which union would be the members' bargaining agent. AFSCME, on the other hand, says it would welcome the opportunity of a membership free-for-all.

The classified employes association said it also opposes the bill because it would not allow unions to collect a representation fee from nonmembers and would include mandatory strike sanctions.

The association also opposes the bill because it apparently would not cover many state workers who are employed by local departments. An employment relations board would be set up to determine membership qualifications.