After trading verbal punches, the board of trustees of the Community Colleges of Baltimore County has agreed to recognize the Communications Workers of America as the bargaining agent for more than 330 classified workers at the system's three campuses in Essex, Dundalk and Catonsville.
The employees would become the first clerical and technical support workers to be unionized since Essex Community
College, the first of the three schools, opened 40 years ago. Workers are expected to formally approve the proposal this fall.
"The workers want to unionize because they fear for their job security -- that is the prime issue," said Charles Buttiglieri, executive vice president of Local 2101, Communications Workers of America.
"Many of them say the campuses have lost that family feel since the centralization plan started three years ago," he said, referring to the consolidation of the three schools under one system.
The plan ultimately is expected to trim redundant academic programs and create a common payroll and computer system in Maryland's largest community college system, which has 62,000 full-time and part-time students. The centralization also is designed to reduce the fighting among the three schools, which had independent budgets and leadership.
But many who work on the campuses are concerned about its impact. "People in certain jobs are fearful of being replaced by temporary workers," said an administrator with 25 years in the system.
When the CWA began its recruitment drive, board of trustees leaders challenged the number of employees who were eligible to belong and charged that the union was distributing misinformation. The CWA argued that the board was trying to deny workers a voice.
The only other unionized employees in the system are 590 custodial and maintenance workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The CWA represents about 5,000 public and private employees in the county.
Faculty leaders said they are looking at the possibility of establishing a collective bargaining unit to represent the 1,150 full-time and part-time faculty. A bid to organize all state workers under one union was killed by the state Senate this year.
Faculty members said they are concerned about the issue of shared governance and about the absence of tenure for incoming faculty members. "If the union is the only way to be heard, there are enough people who would vote for it," said Margaret Guchemand, a department head and president of the Essex chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
During the system reorganization, some faculty members argued that several veteran trustees -- Ronald G. Abe, Alan J. Ferguson and Bruce J. Chaillou -- did not understand academic fundamentals, such as off-campus teaching tasks, and were more loyal to those who appointed them than to classroom professors.
The terms of Abe and Ferguson expire in 2002, and Chaillou's term ends this year. All have refused to discuss board business.
Irving Pressley McPhail, who became chancellor in February, made shared governance a priority in his five-year strategy for the system and has set up a task force.
Continued talk about unions has frustrated board chairman Francis X. Kelly.
"I'm sick and tired of the bellyaching," said Kelly. "This constant negative talk feeds on itself. People are too self-absorbed. And if you want World War III, let the faculty try to start a union."
No one, said Kelly, needs to worry about his or her job.
"The only people who won't be here are the ones who don't want to be here," Kelly said. "The board got modest raises for everybodyand has addressed one of the most pressing needs of the system by getting 1,300 new computers and 300 printers. Is anyone paying attention here?"
While Kelly and the enlarged 15-member board, plus the chancellor they selected, have received high marks, concerns persist.
"Managers argue with one another in front of everybody," said a veteran classified worker. "People are desperate, extremely worried about their jobs."
Pub Date: 5/29/98