Gov. Parris N. Glendening has told labor leaders he will make a new attempt to write collective bargaining for state employees into law this year -- possibly with an expanded reach that could add thousands of workers to union rolls.
At the same time, Glendening has shelved an ambitious proposal to make Maryland the first state to ban the sale of all but child-proof handguns, going back on a campaign promise to introduce such legislation in the coming session.
Glendening's decision to include a collective bargaining bill in his legislative package for the 90-day General Assembly session will reopen a battle the governor fought and lost in 1996. But this year, he will gain a key ally -- House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.
According to labor leaders, Glendening's planned bill would codify the executive order he issued in 1996 that established a collective bargaining system in the agencies under his control. Union leaders said they have been assured that the bill would expand bargaining to independent agencies not covered under the executive order.
Ray Feldmann, Glendening's press secretary, confirmed that the governor is looking at the issue and has discussed possible legislation with labor and General Assembly leaders. Feldmann would not comment on whether a collective bargaining bill would be part of the administration's agenda for the session, which begins Jan. 13.
The governor's initiative would reward the state's AFL-CIO-affiliated public employee unions, which were among the strongest supporters of his re-election campaign.
It would benefit the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which won most of the representation elections held under the executive order.
'Expand in other areas'
Sue Esty, AFSCME's Maryland legislative director, said she believes the bill would open avenues for the union to grow.
"I think we'd be looking to expand into other areas such as the university system," Esty said.
The governor's initiative is likely to face opposition from business leaders and Republican legislators.
Sen. Martin G. Madden, the incoming Senate minority leader, said expanded bargaining could make state government more "rigid and inflexible."
"My feeling would be let's leave this at the discretion of future governors," said the Howard County Republican.
Robert O. C. Worcester, president of Maryland Business for Responsive Government, said the Glendening initiative is not a surprise because labor groups were one of the governor's core supporters in the election.
"It is in the nature of adding to the disincentives to doing business in Maryland," said Worcester. "It indicates the further control of the politics of this state by organized labor."
More support possible
Maryland business groups reacted with fury when Glendening issued his executive order, which does not allow state employees to strike, after his attempt to institute bargaining through legislation was bottled up in committee. The Maryland Chamber of Commerce and other groups sued to overturn the order -- taking their unsuccessful battle to the state's highest court.
Esty said she believes legislators would be more receptive this year because the state has had almost two years of experience with collective bargaining.
"They can see that it's not nearly as terrible a process as the opponents said before," Esty said.
Taylor said he supports the governor's effort.
"I just think it would be somewhat unconscionable for a future chief executive to come along and take collective bargaining away," said Taylor, a Cumberland Democrat. "I think by codifying it, it clearly makes a fundamental statement about our future."
Child-proof gun proposal
On the child-proof handgun proposal, Feldmann confirmed that Glendening is backing off for a year to try to build public and legislative support. His decision disappointed some gun-control advocates, who cheered his fall campaign pledge to push for the legislation this session.
The governor's reversal is his second on an important issue since the election. Last month, he appeared to retreat from a campaign proposal to accelerate the state's 10 percent income tax cut.
"What is this now, the third, the fourth, or the fifth campaign promise he's broken?" said Bob McMurray, a gun rights activist.
The governor's caution on the gun-safety bill echoes his postponement of a similarly ambitious gun-control initiative before the 1995 session, when aides said Glendening needed time to work with legislators on the issue. That proposal, to limit gun purchases to one a month, passed the next year.
"We want to follow the same approach this time around," Feldmann said yesterday. "We believe the advocacy community and the legislature will understand [our decision]. It's just something that's going to take a little more time than we had anticipated, and we want to do it right."
'Wise in holding off'
Glendening must contend with some legislators' lack of enthusiasm for more gun control and a lack of confidence in an approach that relies on high-tech promises of personalized "smart guns."
"I think he's wise to [postpone the bill]," Taylor said yesterday. "I'm not a gun expert by any means, but I understand the technology for this kind of a gun seems to be somewhere in the future. And for that reason alone, I think he's wise in holding off."
Pub Date: 1/05/99