Opinion: Collective Bargaining Works for Md. Public Employees. Just Ask Our Public Employers

Faculty members and other staffers at Howard Community College and other community colleges in the state would be given collective bargaining rights under legislation before the General Assembly. Facebook photo.

“Even after years of faithful service to our community colleges, we still don’t have a meaningful voice at work,” says Richard Otten, adjunct professor at Anne Arundel Community College. “We may teach the same class successfully for several consecutive semesters, and then before the next term, right as we’re getting ready, we might be told there’s no course for us to teach. There may not even be any courses for us to teach at all. We could be out of work altogether, and we don’t even get any notice from our employer.”

Richard has worked for several years with his colleagues from community colleges across Maryland to convince the General Assembly to pass legislation granting collective bargaining rights to community college employees. Under current Maryland law, roughly 200,000 public sector employees have collective bargaining rights. Community college employees, however, are noticeably overlooked in our current legal framework.

This legislative session however, Richard, his community college colleagues, and all of us working for collective bargaining rights have reason to believe things are about to change.

A large coalition of organizations, including the Maryland State Education Association, AFSCME Council 67, MCGEO, UFCW Local 400, Maryland Center for Economic Priorities, CASA, Laborers International Union of North America, Strong Future Maryland, Progressive Maryland, New Faculty Majority and Jews United for Justice, education advocates and students, as well as our own SEIU Local 500, have joined together with allies in the House of Delegates and Senate to advance HB 894 and SB 746, The Maryland Community College Employees Freedom to Collectively Bargain Act of 2021.

Our coalition has now received a strong show of support outside Annapolis. Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott has joined County Executives Johnny Olszewski (Baltimore County), Angela Alsobrooks (Prince George’s), Calvin Ball (Howard), Steuart Pittman (Anne Arundel), Jan Garnder (Frederick) and Marc Elrich (Montgomery) in voicing their support for collective bargaining rights for community college employees. The mayor and county executives, who collectively serve over 4.5 million Marylanders — or about three quarters of the state — made it clear: collective bargaining works best for employees, employers, and our public institutions.

The executives’ support is already being well received. Sen. Guy Guzzone, the bill’s Senate sponsor, wrote, “thank you to the County Executives and Mayors throughout the state who are supporting collective bargaining for Community College employees. I am encouraged that this support will help convince the legislature to pass this bill this session.” SEIU Local 500’s director of Political and Legislative Affairs, Travis Simon, noted, “this level of statewide support across levels of government marks a clear departure from prior attempts at collective bargaining for community colleges. 2021 is our year.”

There could perhaps be no more qualified supporters for the collective bargaining bill anywhere in the state than the county executives and mayors who oversee local governments that routinely bargain with public sector employees. They know better than anyone just how well collective bargaining functions for Maryland’s public sector, and their view is virtually unanimous: when workers can bargain collectively, our public institutions run more efficiently.

Even in difficult times, such as during the ongoing pandemic, Maryland’s record of collective bargaining has been one of compromise and collaboration. Through collective bargaining, employees are able to have their needs met while finding common ground with their employers.

The record of collective bargaining for community college employees is purely positive. Nationwide, there is no evidence that collective bargaining drives up tuition and in fact, states without collective bargaining legislation often have higher community college tuition. In state after state with collective bargaining, there is increased financial efficiency and better student outcomes.

Maryland’s local leaders have spoken. For the sake of thousands of community college employees inexplicably excluded from our state’s tradition of collective bargaining, let us ask that our legislators in Annapolis listen to them and pass HB 894 and SB 746 this session.

— PIA MORRISON

The writer is president of SEIU Local 500, one of the several organizations backing the Maryland Community College Employees Freedom to Collectively Bargain Act of 2021.