Leaders of Prince George's County's public employes union said yesterday they will push for reinstatement of the jail guards who were fired for participating in an 11-day strike last month, or try to find new jobs for them.
Thiry-seven guards, fired by the administration of Country Executive Lawrence J. Hogan last week, received formal notification of their dismissal yesterday. Among those fired was the entire leadership of the guard's union, a local of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFL-CIO).
Ernie Crofoot, the union's state representative, said yesterday that the union "will give representation for those guards who are members [of the union] and who want to challenge the county government's decision to fire them.
"If we fail [to get the guards reinstated]," he added, "we'll try to get them other jobs."
The Hogan administration disclosed Friday that it had decided to fire the guards for participating in what Hogan and his aides had maintained was an illegal walkout. The guards, unlike the 1,400 other county employes who also went out on strike, have no legal right to strike because they hold public safety positions.
Their walkout, which began at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 12, led to a four-hour riot in the unattended county jail. The county government called in state and county police and sheriff's deputies to quell the disturbance and manage the facility until the guards were ordered back to work one week later by a Circuit Court judge.
Yesterday, as Corrections Department officials handed out firing notices to the 37 guards, they gave formal notice to another 53 that they will be fined the maximum permitted by county personnel law -- 3 percent of their annual salaries. The average fine will be $325.
Steve Tanhauser, president of the guards' union local, said the county government "made a clean sweep" in dismissing all of the local's officials, including himself.
"That's beautiful on their part," he said, "because they got us all out."
James O'Neill, spokesman for the Corrections Department, said that the decisions on firings were made after top department officials interviewed all of the 90 guards who they said had participated in the strike. He said firings were made if the employe had knowledge of the strike's illegality, was found to have encouraged others to leave their posts and had a "history of adversity in the department," among other factors.
"It was found that all the union leaders aided and abetted others," he said. "All were given individual hearings. It was not simply decided beforehand that all the union leaders were automatically fired."
The guards have five days to notify the county Personnel Board if they intend to appeal their firings or fines. They will then have 10 days to present evidence to show why the disciplinary action was not justified.
Crofoot said the union will provide lawyers for any union members who choose to follow the appeal procedure, including taking their cases to Circuit Court.
He and other union representatives said they were surprised by the decision to fire the guards. "I'm surprised by the severity of this reprisal," said union representative Paul Manner, "It was a gutless thing for Hogan to do."
Hogan was out of the county and unavailable for comment. His son and top aide, Lawrence Hogan, Jr., said the firings were justified and he expects them to stand up to any appeal.
The firing of the jail guards is the latest incident in the 19-month dispute between Hogan and the AFSCME that was climaxed by the strike. The strike ended Aug. 22 without significant concessions to the union.
The two sides are scheduled to meet Oct. 9 in the Maryland Court of Appeals. That confrontation, over a lower court order requiring Hogan to sign a labor contract that he had previously rejected, is likely to be the final battle of the labor dispute.
AFSCME leaders, faced with a membership challenge from a competing union, feel they cannot afford to lose it.