The union representing Maryland state government workers Thursday announced a campaign to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that would allow state university employees to bargain with the University System of Maryland’s chancellor rather than the presidents of individual institutions.
The bill aims to even what advocates say are discrepancies across USM institutions in areas such as wages, health and safety and worker protections. In the past, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3 President Patrick Moran said at a virtual press conference on Thursday, universities have refused to bargain with the union about things that they perceive to be systemwide policies.
“Overturning SB 9 puts our members at the table with the authority that ultimately makes systemwide rules and policies,” he said.
This issue has become particularly contentious during the pandemic, said Cherrish Vick, secretary treasurer for AFSCME Council 3. Throughout the past 18 months, different universities have implemented different regulations for things like mask wearing and in-person classes, causing some union members to face greater risk working on campus than others.
“With COVID-19 continuing to threaten our health and safety, there has never been a more urgent time for management to come to the table,” she said.
The union has been working with legislators on this matter since the day the governor signed the veto, according to AFSCME Council 3’s Director of Growth and Collective Bargaining Stuart Katzenberg. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Benjamin Kramer, D-Montgomery, had passed both the Senate and the House of Delegates essentially along party lines, with only one Republican, Del. Mike McKay, R-Washington and Allegany, voting in its favor.
In a letter to the General Assembly’s leaders, Hogan said he made the decision to veto the legislation because it would take power from university presidents, disadvantaging the system’s smaller schools, which include its three historically Black colleges and universities. He also said that issues would arise from bargaining with the system as a whole, due to differences in factors like universities’ budgets, locations and missions.
“These pieces of legislation seek to address problems that do not exist and change labor practices that have worked for decades, while creating several burdensome fiscal and operational hardships,” the letter said of SB 9 and two other labor bills that passed last session.
“Until SB 9 becomes law, the USM does not have the legal authority to engage in consolidated bargaining on behalf of all its institutions with bargaining units represented by AFSCME,” the system said in a statement to The Daily Record. “However, the system stands ready to engage in consolidated collective bargaining as soon as SB 9 becomes law.”
In a Finance Committee hearing, a representative of the USM testified against the bill, as did representatives of Coppin State University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Along with the announcement, the union released a report aiming to illuminate disparities it said exist among University System of Maryland employees.
The report, which uses nonacademic employees’ salary data from 2019 provided to AFSCME by the USM, shows the median salary of female employees is lower than that of male employees, as is the median salary for Black and Hispanic workers as compared to white workers.
(The report states that there were likely some errors in the data AFSCME was provided, including the minimum annual salary a USM employee earned in 2019 being listed as “$2”).
Among nonacademic staff, the median salary for a woman is 86% of that of a man in the USM, while the median salaries for Black and Hispanic workers are 75% and 77% of what white workers make, the union reported. Overall, white men have the highest salaries within the USM, at a median of $80,800. Hispanic women have the lowest, at $50,763.
The report also shows that minorities are overrepresented in the lowest quartile of wages; while Black people make up 20.8% of nonacademic employees, they make up 39.6% of employees in the lowest wage quartile, earning less than $49,000 per year. Hispanic people make up only 4.8% of non-academic employees, but make up 37.9% of the bottom quartile.
Wages differ significantly by institution, according to the report; Coppin State University has the lowest median salary among nonacademic staff at $54,203, and the University System of Maryland Office has the highest at $103,275. The highest-paying university is the University of Maryland, Baltimore, with a median salary of $82,647.
AFSCME officials are calling on the university system to address these disparities. The report’s conclusion calls on the system to “immediately undertake a review of race, ethnicity, and gender pay disparities among its work force and develop policies to rectify them.” It also asks the USM to evaluate future pay adjustments with these disparities in mind.
“Shame on the USM for not taking action to address these disparities, and paying poverty wages,” Vick said at the press conference.
The union is also calling for a $15 minimum wage across the system, which, they say, all other state agencies offer at this point. Several universities and university systems, including Johns Hopkins University, offer a $15 minimum wage.
“Already some USM institutions have entered into separate negotiations with AFSCME over issues that include a $15.00 minimum wage — and several others have offered to do so and are waiting for a response from the union,” the system said in a statement. “System leadership would welcome a copy of the new AFSCME wage report as well as any other data that can inform our efforts to improve the wages, benefits and conditions for our workforce.”