More than 2,000 D.C. Department of Corrections employes, many of whom have expressed dissatisfaction with their union, will be allowed to vote on which of three unions they want to represent them, the city's Public Employes Relations Board (PERB) announced yesterday.
The ruling is significant because one of the unions -- the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) -- also represents the D.C. Police Department.
Earlier this summer city officials asked PERB to refuse to allow the vote, citing the potential conflict of having corrections officers represented by the same union that represents police.
In 1981, when the correction officers went on strike, police were called in to replace them.
"We contested the [FOP] challenge using the private-sector philosophy that plant guards should not belong to the same union as other employes in the plant," Donald H. Weinberg, chief of labor relations for the city, said last night.
"We still have the same worries, but the PERB has made its ruling and we will abide by that," he said.
Tom Tague, President of the FOP, said corrections employes, like the 3,300 D.C. police officers represented by the union, would not be allowed to strike under penalty of losing their membership in the national organization.
According to Tague, about 1,300 corrections employes signed a petition to join the police union because the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which has represented them for about 15 years, has not done enough to alleviate what they consider poor working conditions, low pay and substandard equipment.
The petition was presented about two months ago to PERB, which oversees labor-management matters among D.C. employes and can order an election on representation if petitioned by at least 30 percent of the affected employes.
Teamsters Local 246 also collected signatures and petitioned to join the contest, setting the stage for what may become a hard-fought three-way election.
Union officials said no date has been set for the vote, but they expect it in the next 30 to 60 days.
"We expected the decision," said Clarence Bahr, executive secretary-treasurer of the AFGE, which represents about 1,800 corrections employes at Lorton Reformatory and the D.C. Jail.
"They [PERB] were obligated to order the elections because of the number of signatures," Bahr said. "It was not favoritism."
AFGE officials have said that they are confident about winning reelection, citing FOP's lack of experience in representing prison employes.
Bahr said the challenge to AFGE's leadership will not affect bargaining talks currently under way between the union and the city for a new pay contract to replace one that expires Sept. 30.
However, he said, other talks with the city scheduled for this month that were to focus exclusively on working conditions for Department of Corrections employes appear to have stalled until the problem of representation is resolved.
"Personally, I can't see negotiating a contract for another union," Bahr said.