An independent public employes union in Maryland has decided to launch a membership challenge to the union in Prince George's County that recently led 1,400 county workers on an unsuccessful 11-day strike.

Dennis Gring, director of communications for the Maryland Classified Employees Association, said yesterday that his union is "going after" those members of five locals in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees who disagreed with AFSCME's decision to strike Aug. 12 and were upset with the job action's outcome.

"We're starting to organize because of AFSCME's ineptitude," Gring said.

"They lost that strike and they didn't have to. AFSCME is the union that fails," he said, reiterating a claim made on organizing literature that his union has begun to distribute around the county.

AFSCME representative Paul Manner was unavailable for comment yesterday. He has said in the past that although his union ended its strike against the county without winning a new contract, he expects a victory -- and a new contract -- when a case against the county that is pending in the state appeals court is heard next month.

Gring said that MCEA, which represents 25,000 state employes and 3,000 county employes, decided long ago to make a push throughout the state for members among workers who now are represented by AFSCME.

The Prince George's strike, and its failure to win a contract while resulting in a nine-day loss of pay for strikers, galvanized them into immediate action, Gring said.

AFSCME leaders have maintained that the strike and its outcome has not harmed their membership rolls and contest figures released by the county's payroll department indicating that 143 of the 1,400 employes represented by AFSCME have resigned from the union since the strike began.

If the union were to lose its appeals court case next month, many county politicians and officials believe AFSCME may face a mass exodus from its ranks.

It is this potential membership weakness that Gring said MCEA is hoping to exploit for its own interests. He said that his union is hoping to attract enough disgruntled AFSCME members to allow it to call for a new union election in all five locals currently represented by AFSCME.

Maryland Classified Employees Association would need to persuade 30 percent of the workers in those locals AFSCME in order for new election to sign cards supporting it instead of to be held.