A state judge has issued a proposed decision that may result in Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration and the largest state employee union returning to the negotiating table after a year-long impasse.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Hogan Administration have been feuding over wage negotiations that never got off the ground in fall 2018. Each side filed charges of unfair labor practices against the other.
Administrative Law Judge Brian Patrick Weeks declared that the Hogan Administration violated labor laws by attempting to set ground rules that included restricting what the union could post on its website and social media to communicate with its 26,000 members.
The administration also attempted to bar the union from communicating with state lawmakers and seeking changes in state law.
Those proposed ground rules “would impair the rights of State employees to self-organize,” Weeks wrote in his proposed decision, issued on Wednesday.
The ground rules are not a mandatory subject for bargaining, and so the Hogan Administration also was in violation of labor laws by “conditioning its willingness to bargain over wages” on the union accepting the ground rules, Weeks wrote.
“The State cannot refuse to comply with its obligation to bargain over wages in order to force AFSCME to agree to its ground rules,” Weeks wrote.
Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci stressed the governor’s support for state employees and noted raises that they have received. Ricci also said in a statement: “We know that AFSCME can play divisive political games, but what we still haven’t seen is a willingness from their leaders to negotiate with us in good faith, as we have done with every other state employee union year after year.”
Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Maryland Council 3, welcomed the proposed decision.
“We have a duty to report to our members what’s going on in negotiations and where things stand, and our members have a right to know these things … and the state attempted to prevent that from happening,” Moran said.
The judge’s proposed decision now goes to the State Labor Relations Board for review. AFSCME officials are optimistic that the labor board would adopt the ruling.
Once the State Labor Relations Board acts, either side has 30 days to appeal to the Circuit Court.
Even though AFSCME and the state did not reach an agreement over wages last fall, Hogan put money in the current state budget to give those employees a 3% salary increase.
Moran said he hopes the administration will now come to the bargaining table to discuss wages for next year. He said he’s sent nine proposed dates to the administration, but hasn’t yet received a response.
“We’re ready to bargain,” he said.