Prince George's County officials, attempting to head off a possible strike this month by 1,500 county workers, have warned all employes that they will lose pay, leave time, county payments toward insurance benefits and possibly their jobs if they go out on strike.
With only one bargaining session remaining before the Feb. 29 strike date, County Attorney Robert B. Ostrom issued a sharply worked warning of the consequences of a strike in a letter enclosed in all county employe pay checks.
For the last year, the county and five locals in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes (AFSCME) have been unable to reach an agreement on a new contract for the 1,500 workers who operate county snow plows, repair county roads, guard the county jail and work in clerical jobs throughout the county government.
Because of conflicts over cost-of-living raises and fringe benefits, such as health and leave policy, the employes have been without a contract since July 1, when their previous one expired.
In December, an independent group of mediators abandoned efforts to negotiate a settlement in the contract dispute, a decision that put into motion a 70-day strike countdown. Recently, the county council intervened and requested that the two sides try one final round of negotiations before the strike deadline.
A last negotiation session is set for Wednesday and a union membership vote on whether to strike is scheduled for next week.
Ostrom's letter, where union officials yesterday labelled a "scare tactic," warned all employes that "in order to assure continued services to county residents, it may be necessary to hire new employes to replace strikers."
The letters also cautioned all employes that in the event of a strike they will not be pair, allowed to take annual, personal or compensatory leave or entitled to collect unemployment insurance.
In addition, they will be forced to pay the county share of all health and life insurance. The county pays approximately 75 percent of those costs, or about $60 to $80 a month for a family policy, Ostrom said yesterday.
Ostrom's letter also addressed those employes who were not committed to striking and assured them that if the union votes to strike, "you and all employes are free to come to work and, of course, adequate protection will be provided where necessary."