Leaders of the Prince George's County public employes union yesterday threatened to go on strike as early as Monday after County Executive Lawrence Hogan announced he would appeal a recent court decision ordering him to immediately sign a new contract with the 1,500-member union.
The threat by union officials followed a carefully orchestrated press conference whre Hogan signed contracted with two county hospital unions to demonstrate he can get along with labor officials.
Just a few minutes later, however, the county executive attacked leaders of the local American Federation of State County and Municipal Employes and said he had filed an appeal with the state Court of Special Appeals, walk off the job if he appealed the court ruling.
Last month Judge Jacob S. Levin ruled that Hogan had violated county labor laws in his handling of the 18-month contract negotiations with AFSCME. He also ordered Hogan to implement a tentative contract agreement signed six months ago by Hogan's own negotiators and union officials, which Hogan subsequently vetoed. An independent hearing examiner in the case had previously found that Hogan vetoed the agreement for extraneous political reasons.
Hogan said yesterday that Levin's order was not justified and therefore he had appealed it. "We are protecting county government, even if it causes a bad precedent or leads to a strike," he said.
Union representative Paul Manner charged that Hogan was wasting tax payers money on legal maneuvers designed to try and justify action that the courts -- and the hearing examiner -- had previously ruled improper.
"His number one interest is his own self and his political career and not the 1,500 people (in the union) and their families or the citizens we serve, "Manner said.
He said the union has already informed its members that a strike is set for sometime next week, and has selected picket line captains and set up financial backing for its striking members. In additions, he said, the union has asked other county unions, some of whom are in the midst of their own contract negotiations with Hogan, to contribute financial support and to respect picket lines.
Hogan said he does not expect a strike to materialize but that if it does the county has a strike contingency plan which will ensure that all county services continue.
If the union makes good on its strike threat employes throughout county government could walk off the job. Union members include secretaries landfill and road crews building inspectors and jail guards.
Manner said it's also possible the county's 120 jail guards will strike because of disagreements over a method of binding arbitration.
A county labor board recently ruled that the guard's who make up one of five local in AFSCME did not have the right to strike because they are public safely employes. The labor board ordered. Hogan and the guards' local to submit their differences to binding arbitration. Both sides have agreed to such arbitration, but so far they have been unable to agree on an arbitration process.
The dispute between Hogan and AFSCME began 18 months ago and at various points has centered on several different factors. In the meantime the employes represented by the union have been without the annual cost-of-living increases given all other county employes.
In addition to announcing his appeal yesterday Hogan also sent legislation to the county council that would unilaterally put into effect the 4.7 percent and 5 percent wage increases of the tentative agreement reached last February.
The legislation has to be approved by the council before it can go into effect. A similar effort by Hogan was defeated by the council a few months ago after union officials charged that he was trying to circumvent the collective bargaining process.