Charles County teachers are trying to resuscitate a proposal that would allow their union to bargain with the Board of Education for the right to charge nonmembers a fee for representation in contract negotiations, contract enforcement and other activities.
This time, it's the Charles County Board of Commissioners' turn to consider it.
On Tuesday, representatives from the Education Association of Charles County, the teachers' bargaining group, asked the county commissioners to consider including the so-called agency fee proposal in the county's legislative package for 2000.
Beth Thorsen, president of the Education Association, told officials during a forum on proposals for the General Assembly county agenda that passing such legislation would merely allow the group to negotiate possible fees with the Board of Education during the next round of contract deliberations.
"All this legislation would do for us is allow us to bring it to the table," Thorsen said.
The county commissioners will be holding work sessions to discuss the proposals before deciding what it will ask members of the county's delegation in Annapolis to introduce in January.
"I haven't dealt with the issue, and I'm trying to understand it," said Commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D-At Large). But, he added, "I do understand their concerns, and I do not dismiss those concerns."
The issue of agency fees has been hotly contested in recent years, with the school board typically opposed to it and some state delegates supporting it.
Last month, the Education Association of Charles County requested that the school board include the right to bargain agency fees as part of the legislative package it plans to present to the Southern Maryland delegation. After a heated debate, the idea failed on a 3 to 3 vote, with one member absent from the meeting.
The board did take a stance against the establishment of an agency shop, which would require all teachers to join the union, in the legislative package it plans to present to the Southern Maryland delegation early next month.
By law, the Education Association is required to provide certain services to all teachers, regardless of their membership status. At issue is whether nonmembers should have to pay for such services, which include representation in contract negotiations and grievances.
"I don't think a lot of people realize that we have to pay and file grievances for nonmembers," Thorsen said.
"They get those things without cost to themselves," said school board member Mary L. Haff, one of the three members who voted for the agency fee legislative proposal. "To me, that doesn't seem quite fair. To me, it's an issue of fair play."
Board member Collins A. Bailey was one of the three members who voted to nix the agency fee proposal. "I think they have legitimate concerns, but I think there's a better way to address it," he said. Bailey said he would prefer to change legislation to allow the union to decline to represent an employee.
Among the other opponents of the proposal were Board Chairman Wayne Cooper and Sharon W. Caniglia. Board member Kathy Levanduski, who was absent from the meeting, said in an interview yesterday that she has some reservations about the agency fee, but that she would support it with some modifications, including granting nonmembers the right to vote during contract negotiations.
"I have some concerns with it [the proposal], but I agree with it," she said. "I believe in equal pay for equal representation."
Earlier this year, Del. Samuel C. Linton (D-Charles) introduced legislation that would allow the Education Association of Charles County, which counts about 80 percent of the county's teachers as members, to negotiate an agency, or representation, fee.
But the school board vehemently opposed that proposal, saying it violated an employee's right not to join the union.
"The Board of Education has always been opposed to agency fee legislation that forces people into the union," Cooper wrote in a letter to members of the House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee in February.