New state legislation awaiting the governor’s signature paves the way for employee unions in Harford County Public Schools to begin collecting representation fees from non-members. The new fees are to help offset the cost of exclusive collective bargaining services that the unions have long provided for members and non-members alike. Called “fair share” fees by the unions, but derided by others as a union bonanza at taxpayer expense, the fees in Harford County could shift hundreds of thousands dollars from non-members’ salaries into union coffers beginning in the 2014-15 school year.
The statewide measure passed in the final days of the 2013 General Assembly session doesn’t mandate the fees, but does require that they be a subject of negotiations between unions and their respective school boards in the Maryland counties that have not already established such fees.
In practice, however, the newly required negotiations are likely to result in a substantive fee, derived from an agreed upon value for union contract negotiation and enforcement services, according to an April 26th advice letter issued by the attorney general’s office. The full text of the letter appears below.
Once a fee is negotiated under the law, each union representing a particular group of school workers, such as teachers, secretaries, administrators or custodians, is required to provide non-members with an adequate explanation of the basis for their fee, and an opportunity to challenge the amount, which may not exceed the price of their respective union’s member dues.
There are a total of five unions representing employees in Harford County Public Schools, the largest of which is the Harford County Education Association (HCEA), representing all 3,200 county teachers. Approximately 2,000 of those teachers are union members, according to union president Ryan Burbey, who said that union dues are approximately $600 per year.
Maryland teachers unions typically spend approximately 68% of union dues on contract-related services, said Adam Mendelson, communications director for the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA).
Locally, that could translate into a fee of about $400 annually for non-member teachers, or nearly 1% of the starting salary for a first year teacher with a bachelor’s degree.
Notably, HCEA has negotiated a 1% cost of living increase for teachers next year, plus one step increase for those who are eligible.
However, Burbey said that bargaining over the salary increase was “mutually exclusive” of the fee, which he noted won’t be negotiated until the next budget cycle covering the 2014-15 school year. “Salary negotiations were not done at all with any thought toward fair share [fees],” Burbey said.
Burbey is currently pressing county government to fund the negotiated salary increases, planning a rally at a Harford County Council budget hearing set for May 16th at Patterson Mill High School, and warning of “dramatic cuts” if the school system’s requested budget increase, which includes the 1% cost of living raises for all employees, are not funded.
Whether the fee would apply only to new hires or include current non-member employees is also subject to negotiation under the law. If and when it’s agreed that existing employees will pay, implementation is further subject to a vote by union members plus affected non-member employees.
However, because a negotiated fee would become part of the next contract up for ratification, employees who wanted to reject the fee would have to vote against their own contract, according to Sean Johnson, MSEA managing director for political and legislative affairs.
In Harford County, Burbey said last week that a decision had not yet been made whether HCEA would seek the fees from approximately 1,200 non-member teachers, but he heralded the passage of the law. “I think it’s good for HCEA. It’s good for teachers. Everybody should pay their fair share toward negotiating and enforcing their contract,” he said.
Fair share? “Absolutely not”, said Trey Kovacs, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who has studied the fees implemented in other Maryland school districts. Kovacs said the fees represent an “unfair share” for unions, because taxpayers already fund the salaries of school employees who also perform union duties. The practice is called “union release time”, according to Kovacs, who calls the fees an unconstitutional handout of taxpayer funds.
However, in Harford County Public Schools, unions at least partially reimburse the school system, and hence the taxpayers, when employees are taken away from work for union duties like contract negotiation. In such cases, the unions would pay for a substitute, said Teri Kranefeld, HCPS manager of communications.
Although the new legislation affecting Harford County Public Schools passed easily in both houses of Maryland legislature, it got almost no support from the Harford County contingent. Explaining his ‘no’ vote, Delegation Chairman Rick Impallaria said “It brings more money to the union to push their agenda, which is not always in the best interest of the students or the teachers.” The only support from the 11-member Harford County Delegation came from Del. Mary-Dulany James.
Below is a copy of the legislation, which is effective July 1, 2013, followed by a contract negotiation schedule showing when the fees could first be implemented for each of the five of the unions representing employees in HCPS. The April 26th advice letter from the attorney general’s office appears last.
Below is the contract negotiation schedule provided by Harford County Public Schools:
Harford County Educational Services Council (HCESC) – first year of a three year contract (2015) but they do have language reopeners which means they could request to bargaining agency fee next year and if agreed upon the earliest possible implementation 2014-2015
Harford County Education Association (HCEA) – Could bargain next year for 2014-2015 implementation
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) – Contract ends 2015 – if bargained the earliest possible implementation 2015-2016
Association of Harford County Administrative, Technical and Supervisory Professionals (AHCATSP) – Working on a multi-year agreement at this time.
Association of Public School Administrators and Supervisors of Harford County (APSASHC) – Contract ends 2014- if bargained the earliest possible implementation 2014-2015.