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O’Malley, McDonnell discuss collective bargaining

ANNAPOLIS  — Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley staked out different positions Tuesday regarding the battle over collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin government employees.

Appearing on WTOP Radio, McDonnell expressed support for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s push to end most bargaining rights for nearly all public employees while O’Malley strongly criticized the idea.

McDonnell, a Republican, and O’Malley, a Democrat, talked about Wisconsin’s stalemate over union rights along with D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who supports collective bargaining.

McDonnell noted that budget problems facing states have largely been caused by failing to make tough spending decisions, but he also said he believes collective bargaining for state employees can exacerbate such problems.

“We have very few unions overall, and it’s one of the great selling points that I’ve got to be able to attract business,” McDonnell said.

But O’Malley, a solid ally of organized labor, supports collective bargaining for public employees. He criticized the Wisconsin Republican governor for using his state’s financial challenges “to go directly after the right of workers to unite in a union.”

O’Malley said unions didn’t cause the recession.

“It was not organized labor that took the regulators off of Wall Street where they should have been paying attention,” O’Malley said. “It was not unions that made the fiscal decisions at our national level that wrecked our economy, so I think that we’re all better off if we keep people at the table and treat people with dignity and respect.”

O’Malley is trying to build on collective-bargaining changes he has initiated in recent years. He is backing legislation to allow independent home health-care providers to engage in collective bargaining activities with state agencies. Last year, O’Malley won passage of legislation granting collective bargaining rights for day-care providers who contract with the state.

Gray, a Democrat, said he doesn’t think unions are hurting the District of Columbia’s budget. He said when city officials decided to implement four furlough days this year to help address a budget shortfall, he met with unions to discuss the idea.

“I couldn’t have found the unions more cooperative,” Gray said.

Wisconsin has had eight straight days of large protests over the Republican governor’s proposal to have state employees pay more for their benefits and to eliminate collective bargaining for nearly all workers, except when concerning salary increases that aren’t greater than the Consumer Price Index. The proposal is aimed at helping to address a $3.6 billion budget gap in that state. Senate Democrats in the state walked out last week rather than vote on Walker’s bill.