IT HAS BEEN five months and a lot of unnecessary labor strife since Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan first pulled the rug out from under a collective bargaining table by repudiating an agreement his own negotiators had made with union locals representing 1,500 county employees.It was a reckless way to handle a serious matter and came close to producing a costly municipal job action. But Mr. Hogan chose to fight it out and, as it has turned out, to lose twice. In March, a hearing examiner found that the county executive had acted improperly, and now a court has upheld the finding that he was guilty of unfair labor practices.

At last reading, however, Mr. Hogan was still refusing to give in; his county attorney was talking about an appeal. That is Mr. Hogan's right, to be sure -- but prolonging this matter makes no sense. The agreement that his negotiators had worked out with the unions called for a 4.7 percent pay increase, retroactive for the year that ended June 30, and a 5 percent increase for the current fiscal year. During this time, employees have been without a contract or a cost-of-living increase granted all other county employees.

The terms of the agreement are subject to county council approval, anyway, so it isn't as if Mr. Hogan were somehow selling out by giving up this battle. On the contrary, the county's residents can easily do without any more disruptive breakdowns simply because the county executive was unhappy with what his own negotiators had done. Mr. Hogan should set things straight and get on with other business before the situation degenerates once again.