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Will Md. lawmakers give state workers more power to collectively bargain? Senate Finance committee weighs the options

The Maryland State House is seen from Maryland Avenue in Annapolis. File photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Amid strikes across the United States in industries ranging from health care to entertainment to automotive manufacturing, members of the Senate Finance Committee met Tuesday to review the landscape of collective bargaining powers for Maryland’s state employees and to discuss where opportunities may expand in the upcoming 2024 legislative session.

Outgoing Senate Finance Committee Chair Melony Griffith (D-Prince George’s) noted that the meeting was intended to give an overview of the current state of collective bargaining in Maryland.

“This is a topic that we’ve heard as a couple pieces of legislation last session. This was not a bill hearing, and it was not meant to be an exhaustive conversation on the subject,” she said. “It really was meant to provide baseline information on collective bargaining to the committee and provide some presentations on that topic.”

Absent from the committee’s meeting were its Republican members: Sens. Stephen Hershey (Upper Shore), Justin Ready (Carroll and Frederick), and Johnny Mautz (Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot, and Wicomico).

David Smulski, principal analyst with the Department of Legislative Services provided an overview of where new legislation may enable more state workers to collectively bargain or allow workers to bargain more effectively.

Although Smulski did not relay any specifics, he did note that many of the legislative options would reflect previous efforts to expand collective bargaining.

In 2024, lawmakers may again consider extending collective bargaining powers to university faculty, part-time faculty and graduate assistants, Smulski said. A similar bill was filed for the 2023 legislative session, but was unsuccessful.

Future legislation also could provide additional statewide bargaining power for workers in public libraries, and for those who take on supervisory or managerial roles for the state.

Another potential bill would allow public schools teachers to collectively bargain over class size limits.

Smulski noted that such a measure has been put forth for several years, but local school boards largely oppose it.

“That’s something that the school boards feel strongly about, and they feel that they should have the right to determine class size,” Smulski said.

Another bill that could resurface is the Arbitration Reform for State Employees Act of 2023, which would create a process of arbitration for when collective bargaining reaches an impasse and the employer and state employees are unable to reach an agreement.

Over the past few sessions, Maryland lawmakers have passed bills that allowed more state workers to collectively bargain. Maryland ranked 14th overall in the 2023 Best States to Work Index, an annual ranking of the states from Oxfam, Maryland Matters previously reported.

Across the United States there has been a surge in strikes and labor actions this year.

Monday, United Auto Workers at Mack Truck facilities in Hagerstown and Baltimore as well as in Pennsylvania and Florida walked off the job.

Just last week, 75,000 nurses, certified nursing assistants, a variety of health care technicians, and a multitude of other positions at Kaiser Permanente facilities conducted a three-day strike in in California, Oregon and Washington, and additional action is planned in the coming weeks that could involve Maryland-based Kaiser workers.


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Will Md. lawmakers give state workers more power to collectively bargain? Senate Finance committee weighs the options