$ Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan has rejected binding arbitration to end wage disputes with the five union locals representing 1,400 county employes, a move that could trigger a strike countdown by the locals.
Hogan's rejection came after the five locals of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes had agreed to submit all remaining differences in contract negotiations to an outside arbitrator for a final and binding decision.
Hogan, who maintains that the county cannot afford large wage increase because of it new tax-limiting charter amendment, has been arguing with the union over cost-of-living raises for the last two months.
Although Hogan has publicly stated that the supports binding arbitration for public employes, yesterday he said such arbitration in this case "would not be in the best interest of the county. It unwisely places the decision-making in the hands of nonelected officials who are not familiar with the overall economic situation of this county."
The union's cheif negotiator, Paul Manner, said yesterday that the union favors binding arbitration "in order to avoid a major confrontation with the Hogan administration."
He said the union now will ask the indpendent Public Employes Relations Board, which has been mediating the dispute and made the binding arbitration recommendation, to yield jurisdiction. Under county law, this would allow the union to strike legally after as little as 40 days.
The board is scheduled to discuss the matter Saturday. If it decides to yield jurisdiction -- instead of pressing for more mediation -- the dispute will go the County Council for mediation. Hogan would have to agree to any decision reached by the council.
Union officials repeatedly have maintained that Hogan has used the county's budgetary problems as a political weapon against them. Hogan insists that the union is unreasonable in its demands and is asking for more than other county workers have received.
Hogan's negotiators have offered the 4.7 percent wage increase the county gave other employes this year. Manner said the increase would work out to less than that, since it would not be retroactive to July 1, when the unions' contracts expired.