Maryland Gov. Hogan agrees to raises for professional employees, is still negotiating with state's largest union

Nearly 5,000 professional employees working across state government agencies are set to receive a 3 percent pay raise next year under a new contract announced Tuesday by the Hogan administration.

Members of the Maryland Professional Employees Council still have to ratify the deal with secret ballots at their Dec. 8 meeting as Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration faces tough negotiations with AFSCME, state government’s largest union.

MPEC’s top negotiator said she was “satisfied” with the agreement.

“This is the second consecutive year of being able to work with the governor’s team to get much-needed pay raises for the professional employees of the state,” said Jacquelyn Raines, MPEC’s interim executive director and chief negotiator.

But, Raines added, the employees are still “substantially behind in pay raises” after nearly eight years of going without increases following the 2007-08 recession.

Negotiations for the deal began in October. In addition to the 3 percent cost-of-living increase that kicks in July 1, the state agreed to provide an additional 1 percent bump starting Jan. 1, 2020, if state revenues exceed projections by $75 million. In addition, the state is providing a student loan repayment program that will pay for up to $20,000 in student loans for employees in technology, engineering and forensic science positions.

If the 1 percent portion kicks in, the deal’s total cost to the state would be $13.1 million, a state budget official said.

“This is great news for both our state and our hardworking employees,” Department of Budget and Management Secretary David Brinkley said in a statement. “We worked diligently with MPEC’s bargaining team to come to an agreement that benefits us all — our state, our taxpayers, and our employees.”

The raises come on top of pay increases negotiated for the current fiscal year with MPEC: a 2.5 percent increase and a $500 bonus.

Raines said the state’s professional employees, many of whom have advanced degrees, are still paid less than those in comparable county government jobs.

“We still have a long way to go,” she said.

MPEC President Jerry T. Smith, a transportation planning engineer and 30-year veteran of the Maryland State Highway Administration, said negotiations over the past two years have not been “a cake walk” but that the union is “committed to building a bridge between our Local 6197 and the governor.”

“We recognized the fact that even with a $500 million surplus, Gov. Hogan was not going to have an appetite to completely eliminate the pay inequities in professional state employees’ salaries,” Smith said in an email. “Therefore, our approach has been to take a couple bites of the apple at a time as we move towards our goal of wage increases for our members.”

The Hogan administration is still negotiating with the state’s largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Maryland Council 3, which represents more than 20,000 state workers and 5,000 in higher education.

The group staged a protest last month in Annapolis to try to pressure the Hogan administration to increase its wages.

At the time, a representative for the Hogan administration called the rally “an unfortunate setback” in the negotiation process, noting that the union’s members had received the same 2.5 percent increase and $500 bonus as MPEC.

Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Maryland Council 3, said he was “flummoxed” that Raines’ group settled considering the state’s healthy financial position. Maryland finished the fiscal year that ended June 30 with a $504 million.

And revenue estimates announced last month by the state comptroller’s office were increased for the current fiscal year by $325 million, a 4.1 percent increase over previous estimates. And the revenue estimate for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is nearly $19 billion, a $407 million increase over the prior planning numbers.

“It looks like a far more solid financial footing for the state,” Moran said.

He said state employees are 11 percent behind the pay rates of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington. Wages for state workers are too low to attract and keep employees, Moran said. A worker shortage — 2,500 positions vacant, according to the union — had caused staffing problems at agencies across the state.

“There is a lot of room for improvement,” he said.

Moran said AFSCME has filed two complaints with the state’s labor relations board about the negotiating ground rules that the Hogan administration asked it to follow. Moran said the administration wants to restrict the negotiating team’s right to communicate with its members on social media and to limit members’ abilities to talk to state lawmakers.

Eric Shirk, a spokesman for the Department of Budget and Management, which handles negotiations, said, “according to state law, collective bargaining is a closed process.”

“The Department of Budget and Management intends to follow the law and negotiate with AFSCME in good faith, just as we have with all other state employee unions, including MPEC who agreed to ground rules, negotiated in good faith and ultimately came to an agreement that is a win for everyone,” Shirk said.

It is unclear when the labor relations board could rule on the complaints because the five-member panel appointed by the governor has one vacant seat that is, under state rules, slotted to be filled with a choice submitted by labor groups.

Moran says Hogan has refused to appoint the person labor groups have nominated: Lafe E. Solomon, whom President Obama had appointed as acting general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board from 2010 to 2013.

“The administration has refused to seat him,” Moran said.

A day later, on Wednesday, Hogan announced he had appointed two new people to fill the board, but neither was Solomon.

Instead, Mark A. Gardner was appointed to the union slot. Gardner is the former national secretary-treasurer for the National Postal Mail Handlers Union. Hogan filled a business community slot with Richard Steyer, an attorney with four decades of experience that included three years with the National Labor Relations Board.

ddonovan@baltsun.com

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