A proposal to require laid-off workers to wait one week before becoming eligible for unemployment benefits led to a 20-minute shouting match today between State Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg and his old friend Thomas M. Bradley, executive director of the Maryland AFL-CIO.
As a way of winning support from business, Steinberg included a delay in eligibility in legislation that would restore benefits to 10,000 longtime jobless Marylanders whose benefits expired last month.
Steinberg, who is pushing for a one-day special session of the legislature to enact his bill, invited Bradley and Charles Krautler of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce here today in hopes of getting them to agree to support his bill.
Delaying the start of benefits a week would save at least $6 million, which would help offset the $6 million to $13 million cost of reinstating the unemployment benefits, according to Steinberg. Bradley said labor objects to a delay because it has the potential for abuse because some businesses, which contribute to the fund that finances the benefits, might lay off people for one-week periods to save money.
Steinberg and Bradley have been friends for years, but today there was little sign of that relationship. First, the two men held a private premeeting meeting. Closing the doors was a waste of time because the yelling could be heard clearly outside.
When they emerged for a public discussion in the Senate lounge, Steinberg explained why he thought a special session was needed, and criticized Gov. Harry Hughes and House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin, who want to wait until the regular session in January to address the issue. Last year the legislature held a one-day special session in August to extend benefits for 13 additional weeks to about 10,000 hard-core unemployed Marylanders.
Cardin, reached in Baltimore, said, "Something like the one-week waiting period is not something you take up in a special session. What Mickey has done today is make the chances even less good, and they weren't good before."
Bradley said he supports another special session but had grave concerns about Steinberg's bill, mostly because of the waiting period. "There are all sorts of things in here the chamber's been trying to get passed for years," he said. "All this bill is, is a lot of goody, goodies for the chamber."
Steinberg screamed at Bradley: "You're talking out of both sides of your mouth. When are you going to stop worrying about your ingrown opinions and worry about the people? I've seen people in here crying because they have to sell their houses and you're worrying about one week."
As Bradley rose to leave, Steinberg shouted, "You better stop the rhetoric and worry about the people." Bradley, pointing his finger at Steinberg, responded, "You worry about the Senate and let me worry about the labor movement in this state."
"I'm worried about the people of Maryland," Steinberg yelled as Bradley headed out the door.
"Not with this bill you're not," Bradley said as he disappeared.
Krautler, who sat silently through the exchange, said, "Is that the end?" adding that he did not see how business could support the bill without the waiting period.