Category Archives: unions

Union Density in Maryland, 1983-2016

By Adam Pagnucco. 

Labor Day is the one day of the year when the press discusses one of America’s great historic institutions, the labor movement.  Much of the press’s discourse contains annual descriptions of labor’s decline, some sympathetic and some not.  Whatever its causes, the story is true: union influence over the economy and American quality of life has been shrinking for decades.  Maryland is not immune.

Labor unions are important protectors of working class and middle class people.  Unlike political parties, corporations and the press, labor unions were created directly by working people, are governed by leaders those working people elect and are accountable to their memberships.  In their heyday from the 1930s through the 1970s, they played indispensable roles in passing laws on social security, civil rights, wage and hour standards and benefit protections.  They also reversed the income inequality that prevailed from the Gilded Age through the 1920s and built America’s first large, influential middle class.  Under assault by corporate America, hostile politicians, problematic trade policies and economic change as well as – in some cases – handicapped by myopic leadership, they have mostly retreated to the public sector and a few urban strongholds in the Northeast, the Midwest and the West Coast.  Many of today’s economic problems, like stagnant wages, vanishing pensions and the increasing dominance of the one percent can be linked to union decline.

The ultimate source of union power is labor’s percentage of the workforce, commonly called union density.  When unions establish collective bargaining for a critical mass of employees in a given market, whether industrial, geographic or both, their compensation becomes the standard that even non-union employers must meet.  That’s right – even non-union workers benefit from unions.  But when unions are unable to organize significant percentages of workers in their markets, they struggle to maintain high levels of wages and benefits in the face of overwhelming non-union competition.  Hence, union density is a critical measure of union effectiveness.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, union density in the United States was 10.7% in 2016, down from 24.0% in 1973.  Maryland’s union density in 2016 was 11.0%, almost exactly the national average.  New York was the only state in 2016 to have a union density of more than 20% while 27 states had densities of less than 10%.

One might suppose that Maryland would be an exception to the rule of declining unionization given the size of its public sector, its long-time control by labor-friendly Democrats and the status of Baltimore as a once-great manufacturing and shipping center.  But the truth is that Maryland has mirrored the rest of the country in falling union density.  In 1983, 18.5% of its total workforce was in unions.  By 2016, that share had fallen to 11.0%.

Union decline in Maryland has been uneven.  Protected by laws allowing state and local government collective bargaining and friendly politicians, public sector unions have mostly held onto their power.  Their density in 2016 (27.4%) was little changed from 1983 (29.9%).  The real fall of Maryland unions has taken place in the private sector.  In 1983, 14.4% of Maryland private sector workers were union members.  In 2016, that share had dropped to 5.6%.

Private sector union collapse in Maryland has been broad and deep.  Construction unions saw their density fall from 16.0% in 1983 to 12.7% in 2016.  In the services sector, the drop was from 10.7% to 5.0%.  And in private manufacturing, unions in Maryland have been almost obliterated.  Union density in that sector fell from 29.2% in 1983 to a shocking 3.9% in 2016.

Progressive elected officials and advocacy groups have focused on measures like minimum wage laws, sick leave laws, tax legislation, health care reform and education funding to help the working and middle classes and reverse income inequality.  All of those things matter.  But a long-term, sustainable progressive agenda may be impossible without a healthy labor movement.  Independent labor organizations are critical to passing good laws, holding corporations and politicians accountable and preserving the gains made by working people against constant attempts to reverse them.  Without them, the one percent will continue their march to total domination.

Disclosures: Your author holds two degrees in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University and worked for sixteen years as a strategic researcher in the labor movement.

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Standing Up for Quality Care at Holy Cross Hospital

Today, Seventh State is pleased to present a guest blog by Suzanne Mintz, a registered nurse working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Holy Cross Hospital and a leader of nurses’ effort to organize with National Nurses United.

It was a sweeping victory. A National Labor Relations Board Administrative Law Judge ruled decisively in July that the registered nurses (RNs) at Holy Cross Hospital (HCH) in Silver Spring had been unlawfully harassed, intimidated, surveilled, and retaliated against by the managers of the hospital [ed. note: decision posted at bottom of post].  On countless occasions, management illegally interfered with our important efforts to organize a union to protect our patients and improve working conditions.

I love the work I do as a neonatal intensive care (NICU) nurse. My fellow nurses and I care for the most vulnerable patients – premature and/or critically ill babies. Together we help struggling infants survive, grow, and thrive, and we are dedicated to giving each of them the best start in life we possibly can. Unfortunately, conditions in the hospital can make it unnecessarily difficult to do so.

It wasn’t long after I started working at the hospital almost six years ago that I began to notice problems that put patient care at risk: significant and regular under-staffing of nurses, shortages of supplies, and dirty spaces. Every parent expects the best care, support and setting for their vulnerable babies, often fighting for their lives, and every child deserves a high level of care.

Consider this:  How does an individual RN properly monitor and care for multiple babies when she is also responsible for a baby born at 23 weeks, is the size of your hand, with skin that comes off with the slightest touch, requires six different medications plus daily blood and platelet transfusions? If you are the parent of that 23-weeker, wouldn’t you be upset if you found out that your baby’s nurse is not able to dedicate 100% of her time to your precious child?  And what about this:  As a parent wouldn’t you be shocked to hear that the reason the NICU floors are filthy and the trash is overflowing because the hospital has cut back on their housekeeping staff?  Yes. That’s right.  At a hospital.

That’s why registered nurses decided to organize at Holy Cross Hospital with the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United.  Starting with the NICU, and then moving throughout the hospital, we galvanized hundreds of nurses to advocate for patient safety and improved working conditions for nurses.  Every step of the way we have been attacked, followed, and intimidated by senior administrators, unit managers, and hospital security. The hospital has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on outside union busters who have targeted pro-union nurses. RNs have left employment at the hospital in big numbers for reasons that include the hospital’s lack of attention to patient safety and unfair working conditions, and others have buckled under the anti-union campaign of management and its huge parent corporation, Trinity Health.

Despite this pressure, many nurses have stood strong for our patients and our rights, and were attacked for it. Just ask Edith, an oncology RN at HCH who has been helping patients fight cancer for 13 years. Edith was a leader in the nurses’ effort to improve patient safety and care, so she was targeted in management’s union busting. Hospital management fired Edith for no defensible reason – a fact which became obvious when we pushed back and the hospital management was forced to re-hire her and provide 14 weeks of back pay and other compensation.  A major life disruption for Edith is only one of many caused by unfair hospital management practices that have at times prevented HCH nurses from advocating for our patients.

Instead of working with us to improve patient care, hospital management did everything it could to stop us from exercising our rights.  The judge agreed with nurses that management was acting unfairly.  “Credible”, “unrefuted”, “undisputed”– these are some of the terms the judge used to describe nurses’ testimony about the unfair labor practices of management at the May hearing.  And the judge told management to stop violating our rights and required the posting of notices around the hospital about labor law and how it had been violated.

Nurses have been vindicated by the decision.  Despite the challenges posed by the administrators and managers, we continue to work to protect our patients and to organize a union to improve care and conditions at the hospital. All because we care deeply about our patients and providing the care they deserve.

HCH RNs have been deeply touched by the outpouring of support from the community for our patients and our effort to organize to protect them. In February, more than 100 people came out in the cold to stand with us for quality care, including community members, religious leaders, elected officials, and patients. Four area members of Congress, six of the nine Montgomery County Council members, and three quarters of Maryland legislators representing Montgomery County have urged Holy Cross Hospital management to listen to nurses concerns, respect our rights as workers, and stop their attacks on us. Nurses are proud to stand with our community, faith, and elected leaders.

We have continued our efforts to organize a union at the hospital so that we can be effective in our patient advocacy, and can protect ourselves and those we care for.  We urge Holy Cross Hospital management to take this opportunity to stop its unlawful behavior, focus on patient care, and recognize and respect our rights.

Learn more about nurses’ unionization and patient advocacy efforts at www.Facebook.com/HCHNurses.

ALJ Decision Holy Cross by David Lublin on Scribd

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MoCo’s Giant Tax Hike, Part Four

By Adam Pagnucco.

The tax hike is the part of the budget that is getting the most attention, but the County Council took another unusual step: it refused to fund part of the county employees’ collective bargaining agreements.  Labor has taken notice.

Salary increases in the county’s collective bargaining agreements are comprised of three main components.  First, there is a general wage adjustment that all employees receive.  Second, there is a service increment, also called a step increase, that employees who are not at the top of the salary scale for their classification receive.  Third, there is a longevity increment that is received only by employees who are at the top of their scale and have completed twenty years of service.  All of these items, along with many others, are negotiated by the three county employee unions (MCGEO, the Fire Fighters and the Police) and the Executive and codified in collective bargaining agreements.  The agreements then go to the council, which can decide to fund all, some, or no items that create economic costs.

During the Great Recession, the employees received no raises of any kind in Fiscal Years 2011, 2012 and 2013.  Afterwards, the unions negotiated for and received general wage adjustments, steps and longevity increments as well as “make-up steps.”  The latter were intended to compensate the employees for steps they did not receive during the recession.  The unions won make-up steps in Fiscal Years 2014, 2015 and 2017 (this year’s budget) with the exception of the Fire Fighters this year.  During these years, the combined general wage adjustments, steps and make-up steps ranged from 6.8% to 9.8% per year.

This year, the council approved MCPS’s funding increase on the condition that some of the money scheduled to fund MCPS employees’ raises be instead redirected to hire teachers and other staff.  The school board agreed.  In order to maintain equity between MCPS employees and county employees, the council insisted that the county unions give up some of their raises and primarily targeted their make-up steps.  The council refused to fund eight items in the collective bargaining agreements which together totaled $4.1 million in savings in Fiscal Year 2017, leaving the unions with raises of 4.5 percent.  Only Council Member Marc Elrich voted with the unions.

The county unions were outraged.  MCGEO, the largest of them, published a scathing response on its website, blasting the council as “hypocrites” who engage in “public manipulation in order to achieve what looks like sound fiscal management while achieving nothing.”  The council had approved make-up steps and total salary increases of 6.8-9.8% in both 2014 and 2015, so what had changed now?  The difference is that few people were paying attention in those two years because a tax hike was not on the table.  Now that a large tax hike was being considered, big raises were not politically feasible.  Hence MCGEO’s anger.

Justified or not, the council had achieved $4.1 million in savings by trimming employee salary increases.  That money could have been used to reduce the property tax increase, but that’s not what happened.  Why not?  We will have more in Part Five.

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Ready for His Closeup: MCGEO’s Gino Renne

GinoRenneMCGEO President Gino Renne

MCGEO President Gino Renne should be on reality television instead of leading a union. When it comes to political drama, few serve it up more regularly than him. Unfortunately, his members appear to be bit parts in the MCGEO drama. Renne’s leadership has lost them allies in the past–and now it is costing them jobs.

The 2014 Election

In the 2014 Democratic primary, Renne bet large, thinking that taking down a number of incumbents would set him up as labor’s leader in the County and put the fear of Gino into the County Council. It backfired, big time, as an array of MCGEO-backed challengers and candidates for open seats lost.

Beyond wasting the dues of his members on campaign contributions for candidates that didn’t win, his actions alienated his members from their employers. After all, MCGEO (UFCW Local 1994) is the union that represents Montgomery County government employees, so the County Council sets their salaries.

Look at Me! I’m Still Relevant!

But Gino Renne raised the bar in the hearing on the independent Transit Authority (ITA) proposed by Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett. Opposing it did not just tee off the County Executive but actually undermined the prospect of steady work for his members.

The ITA would allow the County Council to create a property tax that went specifically to transportation projects. As a result, it would provide a steady funding stream for work done by MCGEO members, expanding employment and allowing the union to grow.

But Renne nonetheless fought the state legislation to allow the County to create an ITA and turned the bill hearing on it into quite the event. Flanked by 50 often vocal yellow shirts, Renne argued that his union would no longer be assured of representing workers employed by the authority.

Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-15) did her best to point out that this concern was directly addressed in the bill (see p. 8, lines 14-20):

(II) for collective bargaining for Transit Authority employees with arbitration or other impasse resolution procedures with authorized representatives of Transit Authority employees; and

(III) that the authorized representative of Transit Authority employees shall remain the authorized representative of those employees unless decertified by the employees under the collective bargaining law enacted under this subsection.

In other words, why was Renne there? Or more to the point, why wasn’t Renne leading the charge for the bill? Renne made himself the star of the Gino Renne show at the very real cost to his membership. Bizarre doesn’t begin to describe it.

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