The Maryland General Assembly has passed a bill that allows a union representing employees at multiple University System of Maryland institutions to negotiate one master agreement with the system.
This is the third year in a row state legislators have pushed for the passage of the bill. Advocates for the legislation — including AFSCME Council 3, a union that represents state and university workers — have claimed the bill could standardize the benefits employees across the system receive.
“If you have a job in one part of the system and it’s an identical job at the other, why should they not have equality as to economic and noneconomic benefits?” Sen. Benjamin Kramer (D-Montgomery) said at the February hearing. “There is no excuse, there is no reason, there is no logic, there is no rationale.”
Both the state Senate and House of Delegates passed the bill this week with veto-proof majorities. If Gov. Larry Hogan signs the bill into law, it will go into effect June 1 — and if not, the two chambers can likely override the veto.
Under current law, institution presidents act on behalf of their institutions in collective bargaining talks. In the new legislation, the USM chancellor would act on behalf of USM and its institutions.
This means that almost all collective bargaining talks will be conducted at the system level, not the campus level.
“The USM controls and directs myriad topics affecting campus workplaces, so affording workers the ability to bargain those topics with the actual decision makers will lead to more equity and better outcomes for all — faculty, students and staff included,” read a statement from AFSCME Local 1072, a union that represents workers at the University of Maryland.
There are currently at least 15 contracts between unions and the system. The contracts apply to 6,500 workers across the system.
The university system has opposed this legislation, according to a system statement. System institutions vary in size, mission and location, the statement read, so collective bargaining negotiations should occur at the campus level.
“However, once this bill becomes law, the USM will be prepared to comply,” the statement read.
In a statement, the university echoed the university system — each institution has its own unique issues and concerns, and each should be able to address employee concerns at the campus level, according to the statement.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, AFSCME Local 1072 has called on the university to bargain with it specifically about COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.
The university’s current contract with the union is set to expire at the end of June. The university communicated to the union that it wished to start bargaining negotiations over successor agreements in November, which is earlier than usual, according to the university statement.
“During collective bargaining negotiations, all topics brought to the table will be discussed and considered as required,” the statement read. “Topics of discussion may include COVID-19-related working conditions.”
As of March 28, the union has not responded to the university’s request to begin negotiations, according to information provided by a university spokesperson.
The union wants to bargain with the university on COVID-19-related issues in a separate manner, rather than negotiating it through the successor agreements, said Stuart Katzenberg, AFSCME Council 3’s growth and collective bargaining director.
These issues are urgent and timely, Katzenberg said, and discussions on contracts can take up to a year to bargain and ratify.