I am writing in response to the recent letter to the editor by Dels. Gail Bates and Warren Miller, "Money grab by state employee unions makes workplace less free," bashing state employees' organizations, and suggesting that democracy, patriotism and "freedom in the Maryland workforce," are somehow threatened by Maryland state unions and the recently approved Fair Share contract provision.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees' collective bargaining team supported the Fair Share provision. It was part of a comprehensive agreement that includes the elimination of furloughs and pay cuts, the addition of "furlough recovery days" associated with the holidays, and a $750 bonus to be spread through the year along with many other positive changes. Contrary to information from Delegates Bates and Miller, the bonus will only apply to employees hired before July 1 so that only those who suffered from previous pay cuts and furloughs will benefit from it.

Our members support Fair Share because it will enable AFSCME to more effectively represent more than 21,000 state employees. To date, this has been done with fewer than 10 staff representatives and very limited resources. As we move forward, AFSCME will be able to provide comprehensive education on employee rights and benefits, develop a more effective shop steward system, engage in more productive labor management meetings, and, in the end, create a more productive and responsive state workforce.

In turn, this provision will mean better services to those who desperately need them, more safety in prisons and other workplaces, and overall, a more efficient workforce.

Collective bargaining is an integral part of America's history. It helped us build this great nation and it has long been accepted as a legitimate way to increase democracy in the workplace. As Ronald Reagan once said, " ...where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost."

The bottom line is that the ability of state unions to do their job will be enhanced by the Fair Share provision; the state employees will be able to perform their jobs more effectively, and the citizens of Maryland will benefit.

Sue Esty, Annapolis

The writer is assistant director of AFSCME Maryland.