Key O'Malley labor bill being debated
UPDATE: The bill just passed the House, but with amendments, so it will still require more action in the Senate and possible negotiation if it is to become law.
The House of Delegates is now debating the "Fair Share Act," a key piece of Gov. O'Malley's agenda and a top priority of organized labor in the state. In a nutshell, state employee unions now represent members and non-members in their negotiations over wages, working conditions, benefits, etc., but the non-members don't pay dues. This bill would allow the unions to negotiate a requirement that people pay to support the costs of negotiations even if they aren't members of the union.
O'Malley and labor backers say it's only a matter of fairness. Opponents, chiefly in the GOP but also among some Democrats, say it amounts to an involuntary tax on state workers.
"Ladies and gentlemen, state workers are hurting ... and this legislation is nothing more than a $400 tax coming out of their pockets at the worst possible time," said Del. Chris Shank, the minority whip from Western Md.
But proponents say the bill simply enables the unions to negotiate for the fee.
"This is not fait accompli," said Del. Galen Claggett, a Frederick Democrat. "The most important thing is the opportunity for it to happen so the fees are fair and the unions are able to negotiate in the best possible way."
Del. Kumar Barve, the Majority leader from MoCo, said the non-dues-paying workers are like stowaways on a train who are getting a free ride.
"What an agency fee does, it essentially says to the people riding on the train, 'You need to buy a ticket,'" Barve said.
The other big upshot of this: If the bill passes, it's a major feather in O'Malley's cap going into re-election. The unions backed him big time in 2006, and I'm sure he'd like to have their support again in 2010.