After an 11-day walkout, striking Prince George's County employes came in off "the line" last week to try to pick up their work where they left off.
In a quiet cubicle in the county administration building, accounting clerks were hunched over green computer screens and a backlog of printouts, trying ot find out how much county money had come and gone during the strike.
To the west, at the animal shelter in Forrestville, Supervisor Daniel Eeles and his staff were trying to locate records that mysteriously desappeared on the eve of the walkout -- records that told which dogs were vicious, which were suspected of having rabies.
Just a few days before, the wardens and clerks had jeered and picketed from sunup to sundown and had hung Yeeles in effigy.
The strike was over but in some county offices, the picket line had parted friend from friend, husband from wife and mother from daughter, leaving an air of tension and bitter feelings in its wake.
If the strike was a time of trial for Prince George's County government and its employes, it was also a time of testing for the 6-year-old union locals. While the strike demonstrated the union's ability to partially immobilize county government, it also spotlighted a number of flaws in the union's structure and organization.
At the time of the strike, only 742 of 1,384 workers in positions covered by the union contract were actually paying dues. One of the reasons, said Bernard Heath, county payroll supervisor, was that the union had failed to sign up potential new members as they joined the county staff.
However, union officials said they have been unable to force the county to collect union dues or fees from up to 100 workers. In addition, they said, up to 400 of the workers in union-covered jobs are "grandfathered" and do not have to join the union.
County officials said they have received 143 resignations from the union since the strike began Aug. 12. Though union officials dispute the figure, one union officer, Kitty Noble, treasurer of the clerical local, admitted that she has lost 26 of her 176 dues-paying members.
Strike benefits, still to be paid, are certain to seriously deplete the treasuries of the small locals, according to Noble, whose local is the largest of the five affected by the strike.
The strike, which lasted 11 days, failed to win a contract and resulted in a nine-day loss of pay for strikers. The number of employes who struck was disputed; the county claimed that no more than 714 union members were out. Union officials dissagree, and say that the figure is higher.
An independent public employes union, the Maryland Classified Employees Association, announced that it intends to work aggressively to attract county employes who opposed the strike and were unhappy with the result.
The groundwork for the strike by the 1,400 members of American Federation of State, County and Muncipal Employes (AF-SCME) was laid last February when County Executive Larry Hogan, apparently for political reasons, refused to sign a tentative agreement negotiated with county employes.
In March, a hearing examiner found Hogan guilty of violating county labor laws and in July a Circuit Court judge upheld the ruling and ordered Hogan to sign.
When Hogan said he would appeal the decision, five of the county's AFSCME locals voted to walk out. Office workers, jail guards, road crews and landfill operators were among the strikers.
After the strike, chief union negotiator Paul Manner observed:
"We have our wounds from this confrontation and we'll certainly have our scars for years to come but AFSCME was here years before (Hogan) got here and will be here years after he's gone."
Robert Orstrom, chief negotiator for the county, said, "I don't think the strike served anybody's interest. It's a shame it was ever called. I don't think most union members even knew why they were striking . . . Our, and I mean our , employes were used by an organization."
Despite the uncertaintly of the union's future, county workers interviewed spoke of a new feeling of unity and control in their workplace. Strikers and nonstrikers alike were united in their outspoken emnity toward Hogan.
"As far as I'm concerned, if he's an example of Republicans, then Mr.Reagan had better watch out," said one animal control warden.
For all the workers interviewed, it was their first strike in their first union; most had never even seen the film "Norma Rae," the story of a woman who helped organize a union in a southern textile mill.
May Stormer, 45, of Oxon Hill and Shirley Scott from Shady Side, work side-by-side on terminals in the county's computer accounting system. They walked side-by-side on a picket line for two weeks, not for more money but for rights they say Hogan has denied them.
"I was ready last March," declared Stormer.
"I even got up an hour early to come in and picket, said Scott with a pixie smile despite some missing front teeth.
"I believed in the principle of the thing," added Stormer, "that man violated our rights as people."
Scott was outspoken about the people who came in to work, even though her daughter, Scherrie Susano of Edgewater was one of them.
"we didn't like them . If you're not united then why have a union?" she asked. "I think (my daughter) was scared of getting fired. They were getting sent all sorts of threatening letters, usually with their paychecks. She's got a right to what she believes in and I got mine. I didn't call her a scab."
Suddenly, Susano's blonde head popped over the partition, her chin resting on the top.
"I won't ever clean your house up anymore," she said, waiting for just a second before lifting the corners of her mouth into a dimplied smile.
Susano, 29, has worked as a grade 3 accounting clerk, the same grade as her mother, for nine years. She is one of many "grandfathered" workers who had the right to say "no" to the union when it came to the office in 1974. Her supervisor Bonita Burley is also grandfathered and she, too, crossed the picket line every day.
"I don't believe in what they were out (on strike) for, never have and never will, said Burley, with her sharp nose turned up just a bit for emphasis.
"Don't you turn your nose up at us," joked Stormer, and the "family" laughed.
During the strike, Susano said she often waved to her mother from a third floor window, calling, "Hi, mom," as her mother pounded the pavement below. Scott fairly laughed when she was reminded of some of the more obscene gestures she made to the "scabs."
Despite the camaraderie, undertones of bitterness between workers who were not close friends could be heard in hushed conversations.
Speaking about relations in her payroll section, where four of the seven workers went out, Burley said: "It's gonna take some time, there's still some strain here."
Payroll supervisor Heath cited the case of one striker in his section, who no longer speaks to anyone who did not strike.
Kitty Noble, treasurer of the clerical local, was more adamant about the troubled interoffice relations.
"They are not smoothed out by any means, it's just very quiet. If you have any differences with someone you just don't speak to them."
As for the reports of defections from the union, she was more philosophical.
"Those of us that are left will be stronger, it's a weeding out process," she said. "The people that stay in now are the hard-core people who know what a union is about . . .
Gertrude Makell of Galesville, one of three clerical workers at the county animal shelter, said that she found the strike to be a consciousness-raising experience. She enjoyed the togetherness, cookouts and clowning under the tall shade trees in front of the shelter -- as well as the serious work of picketing.
"I did participate every day. I felt it was something we had to do," she said. "It really brought us close together with employes you don't usually work with."
Was the strike good for the workers at the shelter?
"Yes, it made everybody feel strong," said Makell.
Rhonda Farewell, wearing the blue police-like warden's uniform and black combat boots, agreed with Makell on the virtue of solidarity.
"Before, certain people were picked out for favoritism or harrassment, but not any more since we walked the line," she said.
Edna Barry, president of the clerical local, and an accounting department clerk, said that in her mind's eye she could still see her "girls," some with "high blood pressure, flat feet, falling arches" and "getting up in age," marching around the county administration building.
Despite her union position, she said she was able to understand some of the doubts about the future of the union and the position of the "scabs" who crossed the line, especially one woman she had known for years.
"She helped me form the union and she was going through the line!" said Barry. "Somebody told me later that she had a cancer operation and could not afford to loose her medical benefits. I told them to let her know that I understand. If God can forgive everybody, then so can I."
Clutching her red Tupperware lunch pail, the 5-foot 1 inch union "boss" had to keep the picketers picketing and pressure the workers who went in.
"They (the union leaders) said, 'Get tough,' she said. "Who in the hell is gonna run from this little fist," she said, waving a little ball of fingers toward the door. "I've never been nasty in my life."