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Maryland lawmakers pass bill forcing teachers to pay union fees, bucking right to work trend

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FILE: March 27, 2013: Teachers union are power in Chicago. A recent strike led to a better contract. Here they protest in front of city hall a plan to close schools 54 public schools. (REUTERS)

Maryland lawmakers agreed this week to require public school teachers to pay union fees – a move that bolsters the state’s connection to organized labor as others move toward a right-to-work status.

The bill passed Thursday in the General Assembly and is headed to the desk of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley for signing after Monday, the final day of Maryland’s 2013 legislative session.

The bill is also part of a larger progressive agenda put forth this year by leaders of the Democrat-controlled Assembly that includes the approval of tax increases and one of the toughest gun-control proposals in the country.

State Sen. David Brinkley calls the fees a “forced tax” and disagrees with union claims that representation will benefit every teacher.

“If the representation is so exceptional, then everybody would join,” he said. “I just don’t buy it. It’s a political payback that has nothing substantial to do with the merits of education.”

The bill will require tens of thousands of public school teachers to pay close to 1 percent of their paychecks in so-called “fair share” fees to cover the cost of contract negotiations and grievance representation.

Union leaders say the legislation attempts to create uniformity across Maryland and that non-union workers should share the cost.

“We just have a patchwork of bills with no consistency,” said Sean Johnson, the Maryland State Teachers Association’s managing director of legislative and legal affairs.

Johnson acknowledged some issues are best decided on a local level but not in this case, in which some workers pay for union representatives to negotiate fair pay and benefits while others do not.

Right now, 24 states have right-to-work statues, which prohibit unions from requiring employees to join or pay dues as a condition of employment, according to the National Right to Work Foundation.

“The right to work has been on the march for several decades,” said Greg Mourad, vice president for the Right to Work Committee. “And Maryland is moving in the wrong direction in relation to the rest of America.”

He also said the recent efforts by governors in Indian and Michigan that made their states right to work states “stunned a lot of people.”

Mourad said the key points are employees want freedom in the workplace and employers want to open businesses where they can treat their employees fairly and they won’t be forced to join unions.   

The new Maryland legislation is an extension of 2009 legislation passed by the Assembly -- at the request of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – that requires all state workers except teachers to pay the fees.

Right now, teachers in Baltimore City and nine of the state’s 23 counties already pay the fee, as do all other state employees including prison guards and state troopers.

Johnson also said the fees are not automatic and will be decided during future contract negotiations between the union and local school boards. The fees will not go toward political activities and workers are not being forced to join the union, he also said.  

The legislature has already passed O’Malley incremental gas-tax increase that will up the price of a gallon of gas by as much as 20 cents by 2016 and the governor’s gun-control bill, which is considered among the toughest in the county. The bill includes bans on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines and fingerprinting for buyers.

Mourad said he expects O’Malley will sign the union bill.

O’Malley’s office said Wednesday the bill was not part of the governor’s legislative agency and “no decision has been made” whether he would sign it.

"Gov. O’Malley has been competing with (New York) Gov. Cuomo to make Maryland the most liberal and high taxed state in the nation," said state Republican Delegate Susan Krebs. "It is a race to the bottom for Maryland. This is all an effort by the governor to position himself to the left of his potential presidential contenders. There is no doubt that Maryland has become the bluest of blue states."