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AFSCME backs O'Malley; FOP for Ehrlich

* Updated Monday with comments from AFSCME and FOP presidents.

The largest union of state workers rallied Saturday in Baltimore to announce its endorsement of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley for a second term. Meanwhile, word of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police endorsement of Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is quietly spreading.

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Better known as AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees includes 30,000 state and higher education workers in Maryland. In 2006, AFSCME also chose O'Malley over Ehrlich. Both times the union cited O'Malley's willingness to engage in dialogue -- a characteristic it says Ehrlich lacked.

"We had two options, and we went with someone that has honored the collective bargaining process," AFSCME Maryland Director Patrick Moran said Sunday evening. "When the economic crisis hit, Governor O'Malley was willing to sit down with state employees as opposed to Governor Ehrlich, who doesn't believe in the process."

The Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, having been lobbied by both candidates at a recent meeting in Ocean City, voted to endorse Ehrlich. The state lodge doesn't appear to have made an official announcement yet, but Baltimore police union president Robert F. Cherry wrote about it Friday on the city lodge's web site. The police union includes thousands of officers across the state. It backed Ehrlich in 2006.

Reached Monday, State FOP President Rodney Bartlett, said the Ehrlich endorsement was "all about the economic times."

"Officers do a great job, as evidence by the lower crime rate, but it's hard for them when they take home less pay than they did four years ago," said Bartlett, a retired Prince George's County police officer.

Moran said his union chose O'Malley because the governor had worked with them in tough economic times and was able to avoid "wholesale layoffs." Instead, Moran said in a statement, "the pain was spread out, through tiered furloughs, and services were saved."

State employees have been through several rounds of unpaid days off -- furloughs -- during the O'Malley administration. Most have been subjected to at least eight furlough days each year.

Ehrlich has said he does not approve of furloughs. That's one reason he collected the endorsement of a smaller state workers union, the Maryland Classified Employees Association, earlier this month. MCEA has about 10,000 members, including many correctional officers.

MCEA also favored Ehrlich because O'Malley signed into law a requirement that state employees pay dues to the union in charge of collective bargaining, whether the employee is a member of that union or not. MCEA is not designated to do collective bargaining; AFCME is.

As the Nov. 2 election draws near, expect the pace of endorsement announcements to quicken.

O'Malley has the backing of a number of other unions -- no surprise, since unions traditionally favor Democratic candidates. In early September, the Maryland Service Employees International Union, which has about 8,000 members, said it would work for O'Malley. The Maryland firefighters union (IAFF) also is among O'Malley's supporters.

O'Malley also has deployed the somewhat unusual tactic of announcing the endorsements of individual business leaders. Sun business columnist Jay Hancock has more on that over at his blog.

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