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Collective bargaining for UM in question


A last-minute change in legislation that would bring collective bargaining to the state's colleges and universities is drawing fire from some smaller schools, whose presidents complain they lack the funds or staff to negotiate with their workers.

Under the original proposal, the 13-institution University System of Maryland was to be one bargaining unit. But shortly before the General Assembly adjourned last month, the bill was amended to make each campus a separate unit, giving school presidents more power. The legislation, which affects 10,000 employees, is due to take effect July 1.

"We thought this change was critical," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore County Democrat. "Under the original bill, everything in the system was mashed in there together."

The change was backed by the larger institutions in the system but opposed by the smaller ones, whose presidents hoped that the system administration would handle the logistics of moving to collective bargaining.

"I opposed that before the Senate," said Dolores R. Spikes, president of the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. "Now we are going to have to hire labor lawyers, negotiators, people who know about these matters and, quite frankly, we don't have the funds."

Catherine R. Gira of Frostburg State University agreed.

"It means on every campus we are going to have to shore up our own resources to handle everything from the union voting to collective bargaining," she said.

The change was pushed by the two biggest campuses in the system -- the University of Maryland, Baltimore and the University of Maryland, College Park.

"We are the state's only academic health, science and law center, so we don't have the same students and staff as the rest of the system," said T. Sue Gladhill, UMB's vice president for external affairs.

C. D. "Dan" Mote Jr., president of UMCP, agreed. "This seems to be a lot more effective in terms of putting into place policies that make sense for both the employees and the university," Mote said.

Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, also approved of the new bill.

"I am pleased that the campus can decide for itself," he said. "That is important for the people here, even though it will mean additional staffing requirements."

Hoffman said the modifications were designed to continue the changes to the university system started two years ago by the Larson Commission, which recommended giving presidents more autonomy.

"It does put more responsibility on the presidents, but that is the way it ought to be," Hoffman said.

She also pointed out that the bill allows presidents to join with other schools to form a bargaining unit. Both UMES' Spikes and Frostburg's Gira indicated that they would be talking to each other, and to Salisbury State University, about doing so.

For now, they are trying to figure out how to implement the onset of collective bargaining. The higher education labor board that will govern the matter -- and answer many of the presidents' questions -- will not be appointed until after the bill goes into effect July 1.

Francis Canavan, associate vice chancellor for communications at the university system, said that the small campuses would not be ignored.

"The system is going to provide as much help and assistance as the campuses desire and need. We're still very early in this," Canavan said.

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