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Maryland and largest state employee union fail to reach contract agreement by deadline

Maryland’s largest public employee union announced New Year’s Day that it had failed to reach an agreement with the state on a labor contract for the first time in more than 10 years.

The deadline for bargaining was 11:59 p.m. Thursday. The new three-year contract would have been set to take effect July 2021.

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The contract affects around 20,000 state workers under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Maryland Council 3 — which includes correctional officers, state hospital workers and social workers. Most members are women and people of color.

Union reps say the administration of Gov. Larry Hogan came to them with an 11th-hour contract offer of a 1% raise, but only if the state exceeds its revenue projections by $200 million. That would have amounted to around $15 every two weeks for most workers, according to AFSCME president Patrick Moran.

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Bargaining member Denise Henderson, a transportation officer with the state’s Department of Juvenile Services, called it “a slap in the face.”

“I could not in good conscience go back and take that offer to my membership,” Henderson said.

In a video conference call with media Friday afternoon, Moran said members had sought raises equal to other unions in the state, such as a 4% raise and a step increase for members.

The issue of low pay among state employees has been ongoing. A 2018 staffing study from Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services found that numerous state agencies had trouble filling vacancies and retaining staff because of low salaries.

In the past, fact-finders brought into collective bargaining talks between the state and its employee unions have rejected the Hogan administration’s proposals to make raises contingent upon the state exceeding revenue projections. Arbitrator James Oldham wrote in 2017 that “even after the Great Recession ended in 2011, the employees represented by AFSCME have been almost at a standstill on wages and step increases.”

Hogan’s 1% offer to AFSCME comes amid news of more favorable deals for the state’s law enforcement and fire unions. The State Law Enforcement Officer’s Labor Alliance was granted pay increases of more than 20% over three years, according to a 2019 agreement between the state and union.

Moran alleged that AFSCME members are the victims of discriminatory tactics by the Hogan administration.

In a letter sent Dec. 22 to chief negotiator Joseph Horvath, Moran charged that the Hogan administration “systematically rewards conservative white males and frustrates the careers of non-white and non-male State employees.” SLEOLA endorsed Hogan, a Republican, in the 2018 governor’s race, while AFSCME endorsed his opponent, Democrat Ben Jealous.

In a written response, Horvath countered that leadership of police and firefighters’ unions have a history of working with the state in a “congenial and professional manner,” contrasting that with AFSCME’s “increasingly incendiary behavior during collective bargaining negotiations,” including accusations of sexism and racism. “Such tactics by AFSCME drastically impede the ability of the parties to engage in productive negotiations,” he wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

Talks between Hogan and AFSCME appeared to have devolved New Year’s Day, with both parties launching personal attacks.

In a statement Friday morning, Moran blasted what he called Hogan’s “incompetence” at managing state government. Moran also singled out the administration’s stalled vaccine rollout, which he said hadn’t done enough to protect union workers. The virus has taken a toll on AFSCME’s members: 10% had been infected by COVID-19 and six people died from the disease caused by the virus.

Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci hit back at the union’s leadership saying, Moran “lashes out in the media to deflect from his inability to deliver.” He countered that the Hogan administration had successfully reached agreements with all other Maryland unions, including those representing some teachers and nurses.

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Baltimore Sun reporter Pam Wood contributed to this article.

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