State workers approve contract

The largest state employees union have ratified a three-year contract, state and union officials said Wednesday, agreeing to a plan that includes small raises if state revenues begin to climb.

Other details of the deal negotiated between Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees include a $750 bonus on July 1, the first day of the 2012 fiscal year, and — in a reprieve after three years of unpaid days off — no furloughs at any time in the contract period.

Employees also will receive five extra paid days off when the state government shuts down to save money.

But employees would pay more for prescription drugs. And, as Republican lawmakers noted, all state workers — even those who do not wish to be represented by the union — now have to pay service fees.

That change comes after a 2009 bill signed by O’Malley. Sen. Christopher B. Shank, a Washington County Republican, noted in a recent press release that the service fee can amount to as much as $400 per year for some workers.AFSCME has 23,000 Maryland members but roughly 6,000 votes were cast. Eighty-nine percent of those who voted approved the contract, said Sue Esty, the union’s assistant director. Voting occurred over a three-week period.

"Our members are very pleased," she said. "It’s particularly good to see such unity among the work force."

She said the ratification came after negotiations that sometimes looked bleak. She said the plan "recognizes the sacrifices people have made over the past three years."

O’Malley said in a statement that the new contract "represents a step forward for our dedicated state employees as we come through this national recession."

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