‘Fair share’ fees likely to be expanded to education sector

(April 5, 2013) Maryland’s so-called “fair share” policy for public sector unions is likely to soon be expanded to the school system, as a bill passed in the House of Delegates and likely to find approval in the Senate would mandate that county school districts establish a service or representation fee to be charged to non-union teachers and staff.

House Bill 667 mandates that the state’s county-level school boards negotiate with their respective unions – both those for credentialed teachers and non-credentialed support staff – to establish a “reasonable fee” to be collected from the paychecks of non-union teachers and staff and paid to the collective bargaining unit.

The reasoning behind this, and that behind previous “fair share” policies in the state, is that public employees who choose not to join their recognized union are still de-facto represented by the union for bargaining purposes.

Maryland recognizes county-level education unions, including the Worcester County Teachers Association and the Wor-

cester County Education Support Personnel Association, as the exclusive bargaining unit for their respective pro-

fessions. But the state still maintains an “open shop,” meaning that union membership is not a requisite for employment.

Because of this exclusive right of representation, however, unions typically act on behalf of the entire working body, not just their bona-fide members.

“I don’t want to speak for the whole board, but I think it’s the case that we think of them all as one group,” said Worcester County Board of Education President Bob Rothermel. “We don’t separate them into union and non-union.”

The recent contracts negotiated between the schools’ administration and the WCTA and WCESPA apply to all employees, whether they are dues-paying union members or not.

“The concept is that [the union] does the bargaining and representation for grievances and the like, and people who are not actually part of the teacher’s association still benefit,” explained Sen. Jim Mathias.

However, “fair share” policies have met with opposition particularly from Republican lawmakers, who maintain that employees should not have to pay for representation they may not want. Previously, Del. Mike McDermott said, individual counties have written service or representation fee provisions into teachers’ contracts if it was deemed necessary, but the state, he said, should not force the concession on every jurisdiction.

“It’s been left to the locals to make up their own minds, and Worcester County has never done that [establish a service or representation fee],” McDermott said. “But now they’re being forced to do it.”

McDermott said he was dismayed that two amendments to the bill had been rejected in the House. The first would require that counties only establish a service or representation fee if a poll of employees reveals that 65 percent or more approve of it. The other, he said, would allow school boards to conduct audits of how the fees were being used, particularly apropos given charges recently brought against former WCTA Treasurer Denise Owens for embezzling money from the union.

Still, the Senate version of the bill has added two important caveats that may lessen the bill’s impact. Firstly, county school boards will have the ability to negotiate with their teachers’ unions whether the fee will apply at all to current teachers or only to new hires. Secondly, another Senate amendment requires the service or representation fee to be ratified by a majority vote in a poll that includes both union members and those non-members who would be affected by the fee.

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