ANNAPOLIS – Del. Nancy Jacobs said that every Marylander should have the right to work.
But unionized workers trekked to the capital in hoards Wednesday to say they do not want that right — at least not the way Jacobs has proposed it.
The Harford County Republican is the sponsor of legislation giving workers the right to refrain from joining a labor organization or paying union dues.
Essentially the bill would prohibit establishing a “closed- shop,” wherein all employees would have to be dues-paying union members.
Under federal law, if a workplace is unionized, that union must represent all employees, even those who pay no union dues. In practice, non-union employees pay a lower representation fee. Jacobs’ bill would make such arrangements voluntary.
“This bill does not outlaw unions or coerce their existence in any way,” Jacobs told the House Economic Matters Committee. “In fact, it gives the individual worker the freedom to choose whether he or she wants to join a union or not.
“I contend that if the union is doing a magnificent job, it will attract willing workers on the strength of that constituent service.”
Jacobs words were met not with applause, but with jeers.
“Slavery,” one union worker cried out.
“Girl, you just don’t know,” called out another.
The packed committee room resembled a demonstration, with more than 30 union members forced to sit on the floor. The hallways buzzed with people who could not enter the hearing due to fire regulations.
Members of the National People’s Campaign stood outside the Lowe House Office Building holding a sign that read: “Students Youth and the Community Say Right To Work Laws Equal Slavery and Low Wages.”
Jacobs said that not only would right to work legislation give workers a choice, it would help bring business to Maryland:
“With unionization discouraging half of our potential business from even considering Maryland as a location, it’s time to consider [this legislation].”
According to the National Institute For Labor Relations Research, not being a right to work state caused Maryland to lose 79,800 manufacturing jobs between 1960 to 1993, Jacobs said. Of the top 10 states with the best business climate, seven had right to work laws.
Tom Bradley, assistant regional director for the AFL-CIO, said the bill is not designed to give choices to union workers. Rather, he said, “It strikes at the heart of [a union’s] ability to be the voices of the working people.”
Bradley also said a right to work law might encourage people to be “free-riders” — expecting union benefits without paying union dues.
“There has been a lot of talk in the last election about the middle class — these people here are the middle class,” Bradley said as the audience clapped. “They resent the fact that they are told they have to pay for services of people who do not pay dues.”
John Jefferies of the Department of Licensing and Regulation, who spoke on behalf of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, opposed the bill. “There is no room for the regressive treatment of the employees this legislation represents,” Jeffries said. “The administration opposes this legislation, which goes against the grain of everything we’re working toward in the employment arena.” -30-