About 95 per cent of the county's 1,900 school employees and about 1,100 of its 2,400 general county employees were coivered by union contracts with the county at the time the State Supreme Court ruled such contracts void.
Despite the decision, county officials have assured employees it intends to honor the provisions of the contracts, even though not required to, as a matter of policy for the remainder of this year while it studies new ways of handling employee relations and raises.
"We don't really feel the decision hurt us that much," said Peggy Farney, county administrative aide, said this week. "The question now is how do we communicate with our employees. We feel we still can have discussions, sit down and talk with the unions and any employees and they can tell us what they feel. We just cannot 'bargain' and the unions cannot be the exclusive representatives of the employees."
School officials have said they are disappointed with the decision because they thought collective bargaining with employees was working well. "We continue to believe that our procedure was in fact a good way to conduct public business and we intend, to the extent consistent with the Supreme Court's dedision, to honor commitments previously agreed to," the school said in a statement issued after the court decision.
While both county and school officials have been relatively pleased with union representation as ameans of dealing with huge numbers of employees, there was criticism last spring about a work slowdown by trash collectors, and stepped-up and then relaxed ticket-writing campaign by police officers two years ago. Both attempts were unsuccessful in pressuring the County Board of Supervisors into granting higher wage increases.
Unionization of general county employees began in 1971 when the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees organized county blue-collar workers.Firemen then established their own county union, as did policemen and county clerical employees, although police held a second representation election two years ago and chose the Teamsters union to represent them. Prior to 1971, county government employees were informally represented by an "inhouse" group called the Government Employees Benefit Association and each department elected representatives to meet together and ask the county manager for pay raises and other increases in benefits. Pay scales were adopted by the county Board of Supervisors but there were no "contracts" with the Employees Benefit Association.
For the 1,900 school employees, the situation was similar until teachers organized the Arlington Education Association in 1968, followed by administrative personnel and blue collar workers joining unions and the creation of the newest union, the Arlington Association of Educational Office Personnel, formed only a few days before the Supreme Court decision ruled out exclusive representation of employees by any single group.