"They seem to be saying, 'Why bother now when I've never had to pay for representation?'" he said. "It's human nature, I guess."

AFSCME officials say more than 1,000 employees have recently signed membership cards.

White is among 610 workers who filed paperwork to be political objectors, meaning they will hand over $10.80 per biweekly paycheck, compared to $14.96 paid by union members. Those who have not signed up to be union members but have not objected to the new fee will pay an amount between the two; AFSCME was calculating the exact amount.

About 325 employees also have objected on religious grounds. By law, they'll have to provide documentation showing that they make charitable donations in an amount equal to union dues.

AFSCME says it will use the bulk of the new revenue to hire more staff members — it now has eight — to develop a robust shop steward system and to better monitor labor-management committee meetings.

It appears AFSCME is on track to line its political coffers by at least several hundred thousand dollars per year. Esty says there are no specific plans for spending that money.

AFSCME employees rallied for O'Malley and other politicians during last year's state races. Campaign finance records show that AFSCME Maryland also contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the state Democratic Party and various politicians during the four-year election cycle that ended in December.

The most recent audit, for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2010, shows the organization spent nearly $3.3 million, including $2 million on salaries, employee benefits and payroll taxes. Another $150,892 went to "communication and education," while $26,800 was marked "contributions and participations."

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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Read the enabling legislation: http://mlis.state.md.us/2009rs/billfile/sb0264.ht

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