- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The court of appeals yesterday sided with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in his dispute with a state employees union over his refusal to honor a labor agreement signed on the next-to-last day of Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s administration.

The state’s highest court unanimously overturned a circuit court ruling that the Ehrlich administration was bound to comply with provisions in the memorandum of understanding requiring the state to establish regulations dealing with unfair labor practices.

The agreement negotiated by the Glendening administration and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) was not signed by Mr. Glendening, a Democrat, but by his chief of staff, Gene Lynch.

The appeals court ruling said the agreement was not binding unless the governor either had signed it or had made some public act or statement making clear that he approved it.

“Nothing of that kind occurred here,” the court said.

Joel Smith, the lawyer who argued AFSCME’s case before the appeals court, said it is regrettable that the agreement will not take effect because of a ruling that hinged on the technical meaning of the term “ratify.”

“The employees did all they could to honor the collective-bargaining law and had every reason to expect that the agreement would be executed,” he said.

Sally Davies, president of AFSCME Council 92, said Maryland has many problems “with high caseloads, health and safety issues, and a need for improved efficiency. Our voice at the table, which has been largely ignored, is the key to improvement.”

She appealed to Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, “to appreciate and honor the good-faith negotiations that employees undertook to reach our agreement.”

“He has a moral obligation to consider the merits of the existing agreement, and move forward from that point,” Miss Davies said.

James “Chip” DiPaula Jr., Mr. Ehrlich’s budget director, said that if AFSCME wants to resume negotiations, the administration will do so.

He noted that Mr. Ehrlich included about $120 million in the current budget for pay increases, the first in three years for state employees.

“State employees are a high priority for the governor,” Mr. DiPaula said.

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