The bargaining representative of public school teachers in Charles County was incorrectly identified in the June 20 Maryland Weekly. They are represented by the Educational Association of Charles County, while 333 noncertificated and support staff for the school system are represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Also, the Montgomery County Government Employees union referred to in the article has affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is renewing efforts to organize government workers in the city of Frederick, Md., and has initiated a similar drive in Charles County, where it recently signed up county teachers.
Union officials said employes in both jurisdictions believe that their salaries are lower than average for the state and want more effective grievance procedures and better opportunities for promotion.
Charles County officials a month ago wrote to about 350 county employes urging them not to sign union cards. Union officials said 146 had indicated last summer that they were interested in discussing organizing.
"We believe that a labor union is unnecessary, unwanted, and would be harmful to all of us," said the recent county memo to workers, which was attached to a cover letter signed by Charles County's three elected commissioners.
"We intend to do everything legally possible to prevent any union outsiders from getting involved in our personal relations with you," the memo said.
"The letter is carefully written, said AFSCME spokesman Jonathan A. Kier. "It does not directly threaten or harass but it tells people 'We don't want a union here' and communicates an indirect message of intimidation."
Responded County Commissioner President Marland Deen: "Once you get a third party involved it severely limits the opportunity for direct dialogue between us and our employes."
He said an attitude survey among employes made by the county in February indicated that a lack of training and insensitivity on the part of managers was a concern. The commissioners are now trying to correct this with training sessions for department heads, he said.
Last week Charles County's teachers, whose $15,000 starting salary is ninth among the the 11 school districts in this area, voted to have AFSCME represent them in contract negotiations.
Included in the recently approved $50.6 million budget for Charles is a 5 percent salary increase for all school and county employes. While starting salaries for classified and clerical workers in Charles tend to be in line with other jurisdictions, maximum salaries in the same category are lower in Charles, except for custodial workers, who make $11.80 an hour, according to a recently released report by the Metropolitan Area Boards of Education.
Union sympathizers in the Frederick public works department say the top hourly wage for workers with 13 years seniority is $7.50, compared with $10 an hour in Hagerstown, Md., where AFSCME has represented workers for 20 years.
The organization drive in Frederick is the fourth there in 15 years. AFSCME lost its last election in a close vote 10 years ago, officials said.
AFSCME represents 30,000 municipal and state government workers in Maryland, including city workers in Hagerstown, Baltimore, College Park and Rockville, officials said.
AFSCME senior representative Wilford Stoll said 110 Charles County employes have signed union authorization cards.
"We found the commissioners' letter riled them up," he said.
In Frederick, union officials said they contacted Mayor Ronald Young after employes expressed interest in forming a union.
"Young said 'No dice' -- unless we could show that a majority of the 120 city employes wanted representation," said Harold J. Fox, an AFSCME representative for Western Maryland.
Fox said that after more than 65 city workers signed union representation cards saying they would like representation, Young and the city aldermen still refused to officially acknowledge the drive.
Fox said that because city workers said they would be intimidated or harassed at work if their supervisors learned they had signed union cards, the cards were sent directly to the state department of labor and industry in Baltimore for verification and to insure anonymity.
"We've seen nothing overt, but there was some concern that signers would be subject to retaliation," Fox said.
Young and the Frederick aldermen were attending a Municipal League Conference in Ocean City this week and could not be reached for comment. Anne Hobba, a secretary in the mayor's office said the aldermen voted last week not to allow an election or recognize the union. The city will continue to negotiate with an employes' group set up in the public works office, she said.
Union visibility varies from county to county around the state. Several hundred employes, including the school board, clerical and blue collar county workers are represented by AFSCME in Anne Arundel County.
In Montgomery, a small independent union called Montgomery County Government Employees represents county employes, but without a formal contract. Several years ago the 1,000-member police force in Montgomery won bargaining rights as did many other law enforcement agencies throughout Maryland.
A divisive strike in Prince George's County in 1980 lost AFSCME representation rights there, a union official said. But since that "horrid, miserable, stinky strike, we have gotten some groups back, notably corrections officers, county inspectors and clerical workers," Kier said.
Howard County school employes are represented by AFSCME, as are prison workers, sanitation and maintenance crews, he said.