Maryland's Court of Special Appeals will consider today a request by the Prince George's County government to halt implementation of a Circuit Court order this week that placed the county's jail system under court control.
The appeals court decision yesterday to consider the county's emergency request for a stay of an order by Judge James M. Rea came as a strike by 1,400 public employees in the county entered its eighth day.
Rea's order, issued Monday, took away operation of the county Department of Corrections and jail from County Executive Lawrance j. Hogan and placed the penal system indefinitely under a court-appointed but county-paid trustee.
Rea also ended a strike by 120 jail guards by ordering the guards back to work and forbidding the county from firing them as Hogan had threatened to do. w
Rea told attorneys for the county and the striking American Federation of State, County and Municiapl Employees that he was taking control of the jail because he could not "stand by idly and let basic functions of government go down the tubes," while the strike remained unresolved.
The 120 striking jail guards returned to work Monday afternoon as a result of Rea's order. His ruling did not affect the union's 1,400 other members who continued their job action yesterday while county officials and union leaders tried without success to reach a settlement in the 18-month labor dispute.
Attorneys for Prince George's appealed Rea's decision immediately, but yesterday they took the additional step of asking the appeals court to stop its enforcement while the appeal is pending. The county's appeal of the decision itself will not be considered by the court today.
County Attorney Robert Ostrom said he was requesting the stay because the county believes Rea exceeded his authority in taking over a county agency and should have held a hearing on the issue before he made his ruling.
Rea's order was delivered unexpectedly after a hearing called by the county to determine whether striking jail guards should be held in contempt of court for failing to return to work despite a court order instructing them to do so.
Ostrom also said the county was requesting a stay from the appeals court because the county believes that Rea improperly "unsurped the county's right" to decide employes' salaries when he ordered the county to immediately grant the guards a 9.7 percent cost-of-living increase.
Rea ordered the pay increase, the same amount granted all non-union county employes since the labor dispute began 18 months ago, to remain in effect until the country and union have reached a new contract agreement.
The county is also challenging Rea's right to prevent it from firing the jail guards who illegally walked off the job, Ostrom said. Under the county's charter, it is given the right through the merit system -- its equivalent of civil service -- to discipline employes, he said.
Attorneys for both the county and the union will attend today's 2 p.m. appeals court hearing, which could result in an immediate decision by the court.
Meanwhile, county officials and union leaders were unable to reach agreement on three outstanding issues in the labor dispute after seven hours of negotiations with a federal mediator.
The union is seeking a contract clause that would make union membership in its five locals a condition of employment; Hogan has said he wants an agreement that will allow employes to choose at the end of each year whether to join the union.
The union also wants the county to allow striking workers to use paid annual leave time to cover the days during which they walked picket lines. Hogan has refused to agree to this.
In addition, union leaders have said they want a guarantee that the county will conduct no reprisals against strikers -- including the jail guards if Rea's order is overturned -- once they go back to work.
Hogan has said that, aside from the jail guards, he will not punish strikers provided the union does not fine nonstrikers as it has threatened to do.