Citing concerns about damage to the Maryland economy, the leaders of three major business groups filed suit yesterday to overturn Gov. Parris N. Glendening's executive order granting collective bargaining rights to state workers.
Giving bargaining rights to about 40,000 state workers would drive up the cost of state government and discourage companies considering doing business in Maryland, the leaders said in describing their reasons for the suit.
"The executive order sends a clear message that the cost of government in Maryland is high and that the state lacks a pro-business climate," said John R. Tydings, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
Joining Tydings as plaintiffs were Donald P. Hutchinson, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, and Champe C. McCulloch, president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. The suit was filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.
The lawsuit was a blow to Glendening, who has tried over the past few months to talk the business groups out of the suit, saying it would create the impression that the state is divided over business issues.
At an Annapolis news conference yesterday, the leaders of the three groups took pains to praise the governor for his pro-business agenda, which includes an income tax cut and regulatory reform. The lawsuit, they said, represented a disagreement with Glendening over a lone issue -- not a breach in their overall relationship.
Even so, the governor fired back, calling the lawsuit a "misguided" distraction to his efforts to generate more economic activity in Maryland.
"The decision to sue the State over this order is misguided," Glendening said in a written statement. "It must spring from a misinterpretation of its intent and its substantive and legal effects."
In addition, the governor said it was "silly" to claim that collective bargaining for state workers hurts the state's business climate.
Joining the governor was his chief economic development officer, James T. Brady, who found himself in the unusual posture of criticizing the business groups with which he normally sides.
"The decision of the business community to pursue the litigation route is a significant disappointment to me," Brady said. "It is unfortunate that the efforts of many key players will be deflected by an issue such as this."
The General Assembly earlier this year rejected legislation proposed by Glendening to give collective bargaining rights to most state workers. Within weeks of the defeat, though, the governor signed an executive order granting the bargaining rights, upsetting legislators and business leaders.
The suit filed yesterday asserts that the governor overstepped his constitutional authority in issuing the order.
"There really is a separation-of-powers issue here," Hutchinson said. "The General Assembly had spoken. They are the policy-makers."
The lawsuit is based on the premise that the three business leaders, as Maryland residents, stand to suffer financial harm -- through higher taxes -- if state workers are allowed to bargain for better pay and benefits.
The state attorney general's office issued a letter of advice to the governor in May that said the executive order could sustain a court challenge.
Larry Fletcher-Hill, an assistant attorney general assigned to FTC defend the suit, said yesterday he remains confident that the courts will uphold Glendening's order. He declined to discuss specifics of the suit.
The business groups asked the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court yesterday for an injunction to stop the union election process now under way for state employees. The injunction also would prohibit bargaining between the state and elected unions from beginning.
It will likely be weeks before a judge decides whether to grant an injunction, said A. Samuel Cook, attorney for the business groups.
In the meantime, the election process continued yesterday, as state officials announced that a coalition of unions overwhelmingly won the right to bargain for some state law enforcement personnel, including state police.
The coalition, known as the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance, prevailed over the International Brotherhood of Teamsters by a 1,046-200 vote, according to officials with the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
The harshest reactions to the lawsuit came from two unions seeking to represent state workers.
"This action reflects the anti-employee and anti-government biases of these business leaders," said Frank Masters, executive director of the Maryland Classified Employees Association. "Their head-in-the-sand approach to employees is outdated, unenlightened and authoritarian."
Added Kim Keller, spokeswoman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees: "We challenge the Chamber of Commerce to offer a shred of factual evidence that state employee collective bargaining will have a negative impact on Maryland's economic growth."
The business leaders provided no evidence to support their assertion.
More than two dozen states have laws allowing their state employees to unionize. In Maryland, teachers and many local public-sector employees already have collective bargaining.
Counting the law enforcement unit, five groups of state workers have now voted for union representation. No bargaining sessions between the unions and the state administration have been scheduled.
AFSCME has prevailed in three elections. In the fourth, employees voted for a coalition union of AFSCME and the Teamsters union.
Pub Date: 12/20/96