The pandemic caused a shift in the way quite a bit of legislative business was handled. Some of those changes have outlived the social distancing guidance that dictated how we did business. That includes virtual testimony, zoom meetings, and live streaming of in-person events. One event that returned with a force as strong as it was pre-pandemic was the Metro Baltimore Council AFL-CIO labor rally, held on Lawyers Mall in front of the Maryland State House in Annapolis.
The annual event is a show of solidarity among labor as unions collectively flex their strength and call on state legislators to pass bills that support working people and their families. As AFT-Maryland President Kenya Campbell reminded the audience “labor power definitely works.” President Campbell told the story of the legislative advocacy of the Maryland School for the Deaf Faculty and Staff Association, Local 4828 (MSDFSA). She detailed the process of getting employees at the institution into the state personnel management system, then granting collective bargaining to those in the system, and finally the historic 159-2 vote for unionization with AFT-Maryland. President Campbell later acknowledged the work AFT-Maryland is doing to organize higher education professionals, namely professors at community colleges across Maryland. The state federation is committed to delivering a voice in the workplace for professors who serve communities all across our state.
AFT-Maryland was not only featured on the podium. Members also served as marshalls for the event, aiding speakers to the stage, and helping to ensure a safe and orderly event. AFT-Maryland members helped make Metro Baltimore Council AFL-CIO President Courtney Jenkins's first labor rally as council president a success. Jenkins felt that “labor was alive and well in our state and metropolitan region.” He went on to say “what we need to remind our elected officials is that we all stick together and we all come together for the same type of causes.” AFT-Maryland provided ASL interpreters to ensure accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing union members in attendance. Additionally, there were speakers who addressed the crowd in Spanish as well as those who used mobility aids. Commenting on the unique diversity of members of the labor movement Jenkins said “there’s no way that we can organize and get folks involved unless they feel like they have a space and stake in it.”
With a little over a week left in the session, it’s a race to the finish line for elected officials and labor advocates hoping to get bills passed before the end of the legislative session, called sine die. AFT-Maryland will continue lobbying to pass important legislation affecting our members including a bill providing a tax exemption for union dues and expanded collective bargaining rights for higher education professionals at Maryland public institutions.