A Prince George's County Circuit Court judge yesterday lifted a ban that would have prohibited the county's 110 correctional officers from going out on strike with 1,400 other county employes next Monday.
Judge James M. Rea said he would not prevent the jail guards from walking off the job until the county had asked an independent labor relations board to determine whether such a strike would endanger the public safety of the county.
The guards at the Upper Marlboro Detention Center are part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes, a public employes union that has been in a year-long contract dispute with the Prince George's government. That union, which also represents building inspectors, secretaries and landfill crews, recently notified the county that its members intend to strike March 24 if no settlement in their wage dispute is reached.
The union's decision to strike followed several weeks of intensive negotiations with the county that recently produced a tentative agreement giving the union members a 4.7 percent wage increase this year and 5 percent next year.
Although the union membership ratified that agreement, County Executive Lawrence Hogan turned it down, leading to the current strike stance.
Hogan apparently vetoed the agreement, which his own negotiators felt was quite favorable to the county, because he feared it would look as though he had capitulated to the union and to his political rivals on the County Council, officials said.
Hogan has said he vetoed the agreement because several provisions including a full-time shop steward similar to one in fire and police department contracts, were unacceptable to him.
The union has accused Hogan of bargaining in bad faith and asked an independent labor relations board to force the county to implement the agreement. A ruling on that request is expected this week.
Hogan has responded to the union's charges and the current strike stance with a battery of legal maneuvers including the injunction granted last week that would have prevented the jail guards from participating in the impending strike.
Lawyers for the union had contested the ban, saying the county had never determined through a labor relations board as the county's labor code requires, whether the jail guards were public safety employes and therefore without the right to strike.
Prince George's County is the only jurisdiction in the Washington area that gives public employes the right to strike, but that right does not extend to public safety employes.
When Judge Rea overturned the injunction on the corrections workers yesterday, he said he would come back into the case if the public safety status of the guards was not resolved before the strike date next week.
Lawyers for the county said yesterday they have asked the labor relations board to rule immediately on the guards' status.