Jan 24, 2011
The State of Maryland and the top leaders of AFSCME and the AFT negotiated a new three year contract and presented it for a mail vote. The union leaders did it without setting up meetings where workers could see and discuss what was in the contract. Instead, a publicity blurb was mailed out by the union leaders pushing the contract.
This comes after a widely publicized soap opera. In a big show, the state of Maryland threatened workers with large increases in health insurance premiums and co-pays, huge attacks on workers’ pensions and retirement including increasing service time for qualifying for retirement, and capping COLA increases.
In turn, union leaders made a big show saying no way, that’s unacceptable. In reality, the deal was already being struck in secret. By comparison to the threats it may not have looked so bad.
But – the contract between Governor O’Malley and the unions includes a whole series of take-aways that together amount to a real lowering of the standard of living for Maryland state workers.
First of all, there is a two-year pay freeze. Yes, they tried to sell the contract with a $750 bonus. But, what is $750 compared to say a four% pay raise on $35,000? That would be $1,400 year after year.
And yes, they say IN THE FUTURE, they might give some pay raises and step increases – but ONLY if state revenues don’t decline from what they are optimistically projecting today. Going by recent history, there will be no pay raise of any type.
By far the biggest economic attack is on state workers’ health care with huge increases in prescription co-pays this year, double on generics. In addition, the contract specifies that the state will come back and re-negotiate the prices on health insurance premiums and co-pays after this year – without workers being able to vote on it.
Yes, they also said no more furlough days. But, there is nothing stopping this governor or a future governor from issuing a new executive order. In fact, furlough days violated pay provisions in the previous contract, but the Governor simply issued an executive order.
The contract makes no mention of jobs and this a big issue. Not filling vacant positions has already meant state workers do more work with fewer workers. Even while this contract was being announced, the state was announcing the closure of Brandenburg Center in Western Maryland. As for pensions, the contract makes no provision. Both the governor and the state legislature still say they are coming after state workers’ pensions.
Workers were expected to vote, by mail, in short order – two weeks – on a contract they never had the possibility to discuss.
Contracts like this one will continue to erode the standard of living of state workers, until workers begin to resist.