In a reversal likely to disappoint conservative supporters, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey said yesterday that, if elected, she would not undo Gov. Parris N. Glendening's executive order that gives state employees collective bargaining rights.
Sauerbrey was among those who harshly criticized the governor when he issued the order in 1996, but she said yesterday that undoing it would likely prompt employee unions to file costly lawsuits against the state.
"It would be like trying to put the genie back in the bottle," Sauerbrey said in an interview. "It would unleash a great deal of litigation. I don't want to spend the next four years in court."
Sauerbrey called the executive order unnecessary, but said she supports its goal -- improving the work lives of state employees.
"It would be my intention as governor, with or without an executive order, to do exactly what happens anyway, which is to meet and confer with the representatives and try to work to improve the benefit structure for state employees and make it as good as we can make it," Sauerbrey said.
The comments appear to be a sharp departure for Sauerbrey, who was among those who called for a special session of the General Assembly to rescind Glendening's executive order, which was issued in May 1996.
"Governor Glendening has paid off a union that plowed major dollars and manpower into his lastcampaign, but his action is bad for taxpayers, bad for the business climate and bad for most state employees," Sauerbrey wrote in a letter published in The Sun in July 1996.
Sauerbrey's stance on collective bargaining represents another case in which she has moderated her positions since her narrow 1994 loss to Glendening.
Although she remains anti-abortion and anti-gun control, she has said both issues have been settled by the voters. In that light, she said she would not waste "political capital" in the legislature trying to change laws on the subjects.
When the governor signed the collective bargaining order, he fulfilled a 1994 campaign promise to public-sector unions, which had fought unsuccessfully to win collective bargaining for decades.
Glendening, who is likely to face Sauerbrey in the general election, said this week that he would expect her to overturn the collective bargaining order.
"She's spent her entire life saying she's opposed to it," he said. "She says it's the worst thing we've done."
In an interview, Glendening noted that he had been heavily criticized in some quarters for the executive order and had been forced to defend the issue in court.
"I did that because it was the right thing to do," the governor said. "We stuck to it."
Three business groups filed suit in 1996 to overturn the executive order, asserting that Glendening did not have the legal authority to issue such a broad change without approval from the legislature.
But the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the governor's action.
Yesterday, Champe C. McCulloch, president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, one of the three groups that sued Glendening in 1996, said the next governor should undo the executive order, contending that would send a positive signal to companies.
"I would hope the next governor would undo it," McCulloch said. "Then it puts it back to where things were to start with."
"The order would have to be actively rescinded" to undo any damage Glendening's action had done to the state's business climate, said Robert O. C. "Rocky" Worcester, president of Maryland Business for Responsive Government, a conservative pro-business group. "It's another sore thumb for us."
The governor's directive gave some 40,000 state workers the right to vote for union representation, and unions the right to bargain over salaries, benefits and work conditions.
But there were significant limitations. The order provides no mechanism for settling bargaining impasses, nor does it allow strikes. And most important, the agreements would not be binding on the governor or legislature.
State employees in nine bargaining groups have voted for union representation.
The first round of collective bargaining produced an agreement last year by the administration to give each state employee a raise of $1,275, the first cost-of-living adjustment for most employees in three years.
At the time, Sauerbrey said the 3.5 percent average pay raise was not out of line.
Kim Keller, spokeswoman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union that has endorsed Glendening and that represents some 10,000 state workers, said Sauerbrey's comments were encouraging but surprising.
"This is a person who consistently opposed issues that would have benefited working people," Keller said, referring to Sauerbrey's 16 years in the legislature. "We want to see a little action, not just rhetoric."
Pub Date: 8/14/98