The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3, the largest union representing Maryland government workers, released its list of prioritized legislation Monday, just two days before the start of the unprecedented 2021 legislative session.
Two of the three bills included on the list directly relate to working conditions seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have been left in the dark,” Denise Henderson, an AFSCME member and Department of Juvenile Services employee, said during a virtual news conference. “After Governor Hogan’s many failures to lead and govern, we again turn to the legislature this upcoming session to help improve Maryland’s public services.”
According to AFSCME Council 3 President Patrick Moran, approximately 10% of AFSCME’s members have been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic started last March, and six have died.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said, “especially when you get on the phone with folks that are sick and they’re battling through this and they’d gotten it at work.”
Expressing his condolences for those workers who have died, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) said Monday that he “always respond[s] when AFSCME calls,” especially considering the fraught relationship that Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr (R) has had with “organized labor at large.”
AFSCME Council 3 represents over 30,000 state, county and municipal employees in Maryland.
“I believe that organized labor is a very, very important part of time like this,” Pittman continued. “I never fail to respond to a call from any of the unions that represent public employees in our county, and I hope that this governor will recognize that AFSCME and all of the organized labor employees of the state are an essential partner in getting people vaccinated, and slowing the spread of this virus.”
Among the union’s prioritized legislation is the Maryland Essential Workers Protection Act, which will be introduced by House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) and Sen. Malcolm L. Augustine (D-Prince George’s).
Should it be passed, the bill would require employers to provide safe and hygienic workspaces, personal protective equipment, emergency pandemic action plans, paid health and bereavement leave, free COVID-19 testing, hazard pay and adequate health coverage and the ability to refuse dangerous work without fear of retaliation.
The union also endorses legislation sponsored by Del. Carol L. Krimm (D-Frederick) that would require state, county and municipal government agencies to establish permanent telework programs, and a bill sponsored by Sen. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery), Del. Jared Solomon (D-Motgomery) and Del. Benjamin S. Barnes (D-Prince George’s) intended to mandate that the chancellor of the University System of Maryland act as the institution’s representative during collective bargaining.