Municipal workers here, who say they are paid 24 percent less than employes in comparable jurisdictions, have joined forces with the state's largest public employe union in an effort to organize. It is the fourth unionization drive here in 15 years.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) notified city officials last week that it is seeking to organize more than 200 employes in the city's public works department.
Union officials said they intend to meet with city officials soon to discuss an election. A majority of the workers must approve union representation before AFSCME can legally represent them in contract talks with the city.
"If it follows a typical pattern, a bill will be introduced by the city's Board of Aldermen setting up the election to see whether a majority wants to be represented for collective bargaining," said Harold J. Fox, the Western Maryland representative for AFSCME.
The last election was held 10 years ago. The union lost by three or four votes, officials said.
A secretary for Frederick Mayor Ronald N. Young said the mayor had no comment on the latest union bid.
AFSCME represents 30,000 municipal and state government employes in Maryland, including city workers in Hagerstown, Baltimore, College Park, Rockville and in most of the counties surrounding Frederick County.
Union sympathizers in the public works department say the top salary is $7.50 an hour for a worker with 13 years' seniority. Similar workers in Hagerstown, who have been represented by AFSCME for 20 years, make $10 an hour after five or six years, they said.
Salaries start at about $4 an hour in Frederick, compared with $6 an hour in Hagerstown, the city workers said. In addition, Hagerstown workers negotiated 6 percent annual pay raises for the last two years. Frederick workers got a 3 percent raise in 1983 and a 4 percent raise last year.
"They Frederick officials say they're trying to get us more money, but they've been saying that every year since I've been here," said a four-year veteran of the public works department who asked not to be named.
One prounion worker said 80 percent of the department favors unionizing, but said many employes are afraid to participate openly in organizing efforts.
Union representative Fox said workers have complained about threats by managers against those interested in organizing, but he said he has no direct knowledge of any incidents. "If it's happening, it's not up to the standards of the National Labor Relations Board," he said.
Public Works Director Robert L. Strine could not be reached for comment, but he was quoted by the Frederick News-Post as saying that he was unware of any threats against prounion employes.