The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Maryland state contract negotiations:
A scam

Mar 4, 2002

MPEC, a union affiliated with AFT and one of the three main state workers’ unions in Maryland, has tentatively agreed to a contract proposed by the state. It’s the second contract offer made by the state after all three unions turned down the first offer. The other two unions are AFSCME and FNHCP, another union affiliated with AFT.

It’s true there were some changes in this second contract offer. Paycheck deductions for health and drug insurance would not go up quite as much as in the first proposal. Step increases in workers’ pay based on seniority (equal to about 2% for most workers) would be delayed “only” 4 months instead 6 months as originally proposed. But in return for these “improvements”, workers would have to wait 10 months after the contract goes into effect before they would get a 2% across-the-board pay raise instead of the 6-month delay that was originally proposed.

In other words, the total amount of money going to the workers is about the same, it’s just shifted around.

This is a scam, a con game to sell a contract that is filled with attacks on workers’ pay and benefits. The state figures by shifting money around, it can fool workers into ratifying a contract just as bad as the first one. And it seems that MPEC is ready to go along with the game. It’s typical of the way many contracts are negotiated today.

There are two more unions that haven’t yet agreed to the second contract offer. But nothing they’re doing should give the workers any confidence in them.

Both contract offers feature big demands for concessions – workers will give up money in delayed annual raises. And they will pay much more for their medical care.

If the other two unions were intent on stopping this threat, they long ago would have mobilized workers to make their wishes plain. Work places all through the state would have seen big meetings where workers really decided what they wanted in the contract and what they were ready to do to get it.

That hasn’t happened.

Contract negotiations don’t mean a thing if the union officials don’t go into them as the true representatives of the workers – expressing the workers’ demands and conveying to management what the workers have decided, having done everything possible to prepare workers for a fight.

Certainly state workers in Maryland run up against an obstacle: The executive order the governor issued several years ago (and that was later written into state law) which “gave” them their unions, also declared that they couldn’t strike.

So, of course, the governor believes he can do as he wants – give big handouts to the corporations while taking pay and benefits from the workers. And the unions have done nothing to challenge that idea. No – just to show their gratitude, they worked to get out a big vote for this governor who today demands concessions from the workers.

The question is, will the workers accept this?

If state workers in Maryland decided they wanted to make a fight to protect their pay and benefits, they could surely come up with many ways to make such a fight on their jobs even without putting up a formal picket line. And when workers really do decide to strike, legal prohibitions don’t stop them.

The real issue is what the workers want and are ready to do, and whether there are union representatives who take their stand with the workers.