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General Assembly approves legislation allowing Baltimore County librarians to unionize

A bill that would enable Baltimore County librarians to form a union passed both chambers of the General Assembly on the final day of the legislative session Monday night, and now heads to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk for his signature.

Barring a veto from Hogan, the legislation — approved by a 99-38 House vote — will authorize county library employees to collectively bargain and join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, a union representing nearly 647,000 employees across 200 industries.

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Library union advocates have cited health care benefits for part-time employees, who make up almost half of library staff, as part of their reason for seeking collective bargaining power.

Part-time employees do not receive pension contributions, dental or health care coverage through the library system. Their benefits include accrued sick leave and two paid holidays.

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The Maryland Attorney General’s office advises that collective bargaining be authorized through state legislation rather than a local charter amendment, which could be challenged in court.

Librarians in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have formed a union. Howard County librarians are authorized to organize, but haven’t done so.

Baltimore County librarians intend to hold an election in September, said Bridget Fitzgerald, a union organizer working with the library’s professional staff. Union organizers must first collect signatures from 30% of the library system’s roughly 600 employees who are eligible to collectively bargain by September.

At least 50% of library employees must then vote in support of joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers before any negotiations with library administration can begin.

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Asked whether Hogan will sign the bill into law, a spokeswoman said he had not yet reviewed it.

“At the end of the day I feel as if we did it a lot to alleviate the concerns of the library system while maintaining the protections that the employees deserve,” Fitzgerald said.

Some amendments to the bill included clarifying library management rights and spelling out a union decertification process.

Sonia Alcántara-Antoine, who became director of the Baltimore County Public Library in February, said in a statement that library officials are “pleased that [the legislation] was passed with workable amendments for all participating parties.”

“If and when staff members make an informed decision to unionize, we will look forward to having a positive working relationship with the elected union,” she added.

Baltimore County Library expenses could increase significantly, according to the bill’s fiscal note, if library administration hires outside mediators, raises salaries and increases fringe benefits.

The County Council ultimately has final say on library funding when it votes on the budget each year. The library system’s operational costs were $43.1 million this fiscal year, according to the county budget.

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