Prince George's County Executive Lawrence Hogan violated the county's labor laws when he vetoed a tentative agreement with the public employes union due to extraneous political considerations, according to the findings of an independent hearing examiner.
Hugh D. Jascourt, the examiner who serves on the board for the county, also ruled yesterday that Hogan violated labor laws by undercutting the authority of his own negotiators and by trying to force the union to criticize his political opponents before signing the new contract.
Jascourt ordered Hogan to swiftly implement the tentative agreement, which county negotiators signed more than a month ago but Hogan rejected. He also said Hogan should pay the union's legal costs for the hearing and publicly post a notice to all county employes stating that the county will never again partake in bad faith bargaining.
"Ridiculous," said Hogan, when informed of the examiner's ruling, which he said the county will ignore while appealing the issue in circuit court. Hogan added: "It is a frivolous opinion with no legal basis. If AFSCME is relying on Mr. Jascourt's absurd opinion, they're making a mistake. The county attorney tried to have him (Jascourt) disqualified from the hearing because of his obvious bias, and this just confirms his bias."
Twelve years ago, Jascourt worked for the AFSCME international. In the years since, he has worked for management in labor relations, currently holding down a position as a labor lawyer in the Interior Department. "I have a substantial record as a neutral observer," said Jascourt.
Union representative Paul Manner, who was dealt a setback last week when a county judge issued a 90-day strike injunction against workers, said he was "extremely pleased" by the examiner's decision. "We expect Mr. Hogan to implement his end of the order," said Manner.
Members of the county council, who have warred publicly and privately with Hogan over his handling of the year-long negotiations with the 1,500-member union, said they were not surprised by the ruling against Hogan.
"There is no doubt that the executive has used a bunch of extraordinary actions, some of which were either illegal or unethical in the contract dispute with the union," said council chairman Parris Glendening. "The executive must follow the law and if he doesn't like it he should propose changes, not unilaterally say he is above and beyond it."
The council must approve any contract agreement that Hogan reaches with county unions and several council members said yesterday they believe the tentative agreement which Hogan vetoed was extremely favorable to the county.
"We've always felt the contract was good for the county," said council member Gerard T. McDonough. "The delay and the controversy was unnecessary and motivated by political or other considerations on Hogan's part."
The Jascourt ruling was only the most recent in a month-long series of court rulings, strike threats by the union and public accusations by both sides over a contract for the public employes, many of whom are the lowest paid in the county.
These employes, who work as landfill operators, jail guards and building inspectors among other jobs, have been without a contract since July and have not received the cost-of-living raises given all nonunionized employes.
Although negotiations for a new contract have been underway for the last 13 months, it was only six weeks ago that the two sides were able to reach an agreement.
That tentative agreement, which gave the workers a 4.7 percent wage increase this year and 5 percent next year, was signed by the union and Hogan's negotiators and was considered by the negotiators to be extremely favorable to the county.
However, on the day it was presented to Hogan for his approval, the Republican executive and the all-Democratic council were embroiled in a dispute over Hogan's negotiating practices and Hogan, furious at the council and concerned that it would get credit for any settlement, refused to sign the tentative agreement.
Hogan apparently told his aides and negotiators that he would consider approving the agreement if the union signed a statement that criticized the council, in particular Glendening, one of Hogan's most vocal political rivals.
The union refused the request and told the county it would go out on strike March 24, last Monday, if a settlement in the dispute had not been reached by then. Last week, a circuit court judge postponed the strike date for 90 days and the county and the union agreed to make further attempts at mediation.
Hogan has repeatedly denied that he vetoed the tentative agreement for political reasons. Immediately after he rejected it, Hogan said he could not approve several minor economic provisions in the agreement.
Several days after that, Hogan minimized his problems with the economic issues and said he could not approve the tentative agreement because of several other provisions that would have benefited only the union leadership.
As a result of Hogan's rejection of the agreement, the union filed several unfair labor practices grievances against the county and it was on these charges that Jascourt ruled.