The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, savoring its hard-fought election victory as the bargaining agent for 2,400 D.C. Corrections Department employes, began making plans yesterday to reopen contract talks with the District government to attain pay parity with the police department.
At the same time, Teamsters officials said, the union has an important foothold among D.C. workers that will help in organizing elsewhere in the government.
"As soon as the dust clears and we get certified, we'll go in and negotiate whatever hasn't been signed," said Ernie V. Jumalon, principal executive officer of Teamsters Local 246, which won Tuesday's representation election at Lorton Reformatory and the D.C. Jail.
Corrections employes there chose the Teamsters over the incumbent union, the American Federation of Government Employees, giving the Teamsters 59 percent of the votes compared to 41 percent for AFGE.
Officials at AFGE, which had represented city corrections workers for 30 years, said yesterday they have no plans to challenge the outcome of the election.
Jumalon's local already represents Metro's transit police and other Metro security employes. Two other Teamsters locals are vying together for the right to represent 2,500 D.C. Board of Education service workers currently represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
"At this point, we have almost 2,000 authorization cards calling for an election from a unit of 2,500 people," said John Mooney, a lawyer whose firm represents the Teamsters locals. He said the union is "confident we'd win" an election and is trying to force AFSCME to hold one.
Union officials said yesterday AFGE's ouster as the bargaining agent for city corrections employes indicated their intense level of anger and frustration with their working conditions.
One of the perennial complaints among corrections department employes is that their salaries generally have lagged about $5,000 to $6,000 behind those of D.C. police and firefighters. Corrections officers say working at Lorton and the D.C. Jail is just as hazardous as fighting fires and patrolling the streets.
AFGE had strongly lobbied Mayor Marion Barry's office for pay parity with the city's other public safety agencies. Three days before the election, Barry gave corrections officers a pay raise, effective Oct. 15, ranging from 3 percent to 10 percent, depending on the employe's grade.
The raise, according to Donald H. Weinberg, the city's chief labor negotiator, will put the starting salary for a corrections officer at $17,800. But Teamsters officials said that, even with the increases, corrections officers still will be making less than starting police officers, who earn about $19,850 and would earn about $21,700 if they receive pending raises that are being challenged by the city.
Representatives for the city's police and fire department unions said yesterday that it was too early to tell what effect the Teamsters might have on their own bargaining with the city.
"The Teamsters is an old and widely recognized union nationally, but they're new kids on the block in D.C.," said Gary Hankins, labor committee chairman for the Fraternal Order of Police. "I believe their entrance into organized labor in the District is going to complicate the mayor's relations with labor a great deal, but it's impossible to say how."
Weinberg, who heads the D.C. Office of Labor Relations, said he was "amazed at all this hype and nervousness and mystique about the Teamsters . . . . We're going to treat them as we would any other union."
Officials at both the Teamsters and AFGE said corrections employes were likely influenced by the image of the Teamsters union as a tough bargainer. But Weinberg said city negotiators, too, "are good at what we do."
"So they're tough," he said. "Most unions are tough. If they're not, then they're unfortunately voted out."
Tuesday's loss by AFGE was the latest in several representation defeats for the 200,000-member union, still the largest federal employe union in the nation. It continues to sign up about 3,000 members a month, officials said, and last month took in more members than it lost.
"Like all unions, we have lost members, but the decline has slowed down recently," said Loretta Ucelli, AFGE's director of communications. She said the union has begun to assess what she called "the modern needs of government workers, their job satisfaction and morale as well as salary and benefits."