Public employes in Prince George's County returned to work yesterday after an 11-day strike that left them angry at County Executive Lawrence Hogan, critical of their union leadership and still without a contract.
It was a day of some tension in county offices as the returning strikers and those who remained on the job were together for the first time since Aug. 12, when the strike by five locals of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes began.
There was talk by at least some employes of quitting county government altogether because, as one put it, "Hogan doesn't care about us as people." Others said they intended to quit the union for leading them into a strike that mainly resulted in a nine-day loss of pay.
Hogan deliberately kept a low profile yesterday. All questions were referred to aides who said only that they were pleased the union had given up its strike and returned to work.
"He doesn't want to gloat" or further exacerbate already high feelings among county workers, one official said yesterday.
Several supervisors and department heads reported yesterday that "an undercurrent of ill-feelings," as one put it, was apparent among employes. In several offices there were hostile exchanges between strikers and nonstrikers.
Union representatives yesterday minimized the negative impact of having called off the strike and spent the day trying to counter widespread rumors and reports from the county executive's office of mass defections from their ranks.
County labor relations officials reported that 143 employes of the 1,400 workers represented by AFSMCE have resigned from the union since the strike began two weeks ago. Union officials have questioned that figure.
County statistics also show that among those 143 are 25 of the county's 126 jail guards who make up one of AFSMCE's five locals. If enough, more guards, were to resign to bring the total resignations to 30 percent of the local, it is possible that the county labor relations board would be called in to hold a vote on decertifying the union as bargaining agent for the guards.
Union officials yesterday reiterated that they expect to "win the war" against Hogan in the state Court of Appeals.
A case is now pending before the court that -- if upheld -- could force Hogan to sign a contract with the union that negotiators for the two sides approved six months ago but the county executive vetoed.
The case involves a county appeal of Circuit Court Judge Jacob Levin's finding last month that Hogan violated labor laws by allowing improper political considerations to intervene in his handling of the dispute with AFSCME. Levin also ordered the county to implement an agreement signed by negotiators and then vetoed by Hogan six months ago.
If the court overturns the ruling, it would represent a vindication, in Hogan's eyes, of his much-criticized conduct of labor relations. Twice he has been found guilty of violating labor laws but he maintained he has been acting on principle and not on the basis of political expediency.
The union is counting on the appeals court to uphold Levin's finding and accomplish what a strike could not. The leadership of the union has staked a great deal on the success of the case. If the court rules against it, leaving its members again without a contract, some political observers think it could spell the end to AFSCME in the county.
Whatever the outcome, county employes yesterday were obviously unhappy to return to work without any of their strike demands met.
The union abandoned efforts on Friday to win amnesty for jail guards who Hogan has said he will fire for striking and sparking a four-hour prison riot. hIt also was unable to get county negotiators to agree to allow strikers to use vacation time to avoid losing pay.
"I feel nothing was accomplished," said Mary Beth Wood, an employe of the Consumer Protection Commission, who walked picket lines since the strike began. "I'm very disappointed."