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Amid COVID-19 surge, MD Gov. Hogan plays politics with state employee contracts

Photo Credit: Getty
By Katie Mostris, AFSCME Council 3 ·
Amid COVID-19 surge, MD Gov. Hogan plays politics with state employee contracts
Photo credit: Maryland governor’s office

AFSCME Council 3, Maryland’s largest state employee union, announced a failure to reach an agreement in contract negotiations for the first time since 2006.

After months of negotiating with Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration about wage increases and various non-economic proposals, Council 3 members were unable to reach an agreement, including over access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and a statewide telework policy.

Since the beginning, the state’s response to the pandemic has endangered the lives of AFSCME members who have been on the front lines. While Hogan and his negotiators refused to negotiate for months over health and safety matters, six Council 3 members lost their lives and over 10% of the members have been infected by COVID-19. 

The Hogan administration’s failed vaccine rollout has further endangered front-line essential workers, with employees in state hospitals, prisons, and juvenile facilities still not being offered the vaccine. This, paired with a Hogan pay proposal that Council 3 rejected, show a disregard for the vital work that members of Council 3 do for the State of Maryland.

In October, Hogan offered cuts to pay, benefits and overtime protections, as well as furlough days for all state employees. In contrast, he has agreed to increase police officers' pay by almost 25% over the last three years.

“I could not in good conscience go back and take that offer to my membership,” said Denise Henderson, AFSCME Local 3167 president. “Through this whole pandemic, we have been there, working hard and keeping the youth in our care safe. The governor’s proposals are a slap in the face to front-line workers like my co-workers and me.”

During collective bargaining sessions between the administration and Council 3, negotiators from the state indicated the more generous wage offer for police officers was directly related to their closer political alignment with the Hogan administration, said Council 3 President Patrick Moran.

“In this time of heightened danger and increased recognition of the sacrifices of front-line workers, Hogan continues to exhibit a pattern of under-paying and under-resourcing state services and the state employees providing them,” Moran added. “The governor’s refusal to compromise on critical issues like access to PPE, uniform telework policies, or a vaccine distribution plan ultimately made accepting this agreement untenable.”

Throughout the pandemic, there have been many examples of Hogan attempting to cut side deals favoring his political allies and of unaccountable behavior. Here is one example. Furthermore, the administration has failed to engage with AFSCME or provide any timeline or information about the vaccine distribution for all state employees, further putting their lives at risk.

As Maryland’s legislative session began last week, Council 3 members prepared to fight for fair wages for public employees, improved health and safety protections in the law, telework policy reform and strengthening union rights in higher education and the Office of the Public Defender.

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