Prince George's County Executive Lawrence Hogan declared yesterday that he is ready to "tough it out" and will not negotiate with 1,500 striking county workers until they return to their jobs.
The strike by jail guards, office workers, road crews and landfill operators began shortly before midnight Monday and will continue, union leaders said, until Hogan gives them a new contract. By the end of yesterday's workday, as picket lines rimmed all county government buildings, both sides seemed to agree that the first full-scale public workers' strike in county history likely would be a long and hot one.
While the overall impact of the strike by local members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was difficult to ascertain -- county and union officials gave widely varying figures about the number of participants -- the impact was clear and immediate in several areas.
At the county jail in Upper Marlboro, prisoners rioted, causing $50,000 in damage when the jail guards walked off the night shift at 12:01 a.m. yesterday. The county was forced to call in the sheriff's department and state and county police to quell the four-hour disturbance. Hogan yesterday fired 121 of the county's 126 jail guards who had participated in the strike because, he said, they had done so illegally.
At the county landfill on Brown Station Road, some 80 picketers turned away all but 25 of the 100 or so garbage trucks that normally use the county dump. Three skirmishes occurred at the site when dump trucks tried to enter the landfill. In two incidents picketers were hit by trucks and in the third a fight broke out between a driver and several picketers. No one was seriously injured in the incidents.
At the county's animal shelter, officals said that vandals had let all the animals, including possible rabid ones, run throughout the building, and removed all records. In addition, officials said, 8 of the shelter's 11 vehicles were damaged. Union officials denied responsibility.
County police were forced to reduce protection throughout the county because of the need to strengthen security at strike areas. Police Chief Jack McHale said, "We are stripping the districts [police stations around the county] but they're not cripples." (Neither the county's police nor firefighters are on strike.)
At least 600 employes, according to union and county officials, walked picket lines at various county sites. Union officials maintained the 80 percent of their 1,500 members had participated in the job action. Hogan estimated that only 600 -- under 50 percent -- had stayed off the job.
Hogan said that despite the strike, the county had been able to provide "essential services" yesterday and would continue to do so in coming days. "The impact of the AFSCME strike has not been significant," he told a packed afternoon press conference. "While AFSCME stays out I will not talk to them."
Union representative Paul Manner said he was pleased by the first day's strike because of the large number of people involved and because it had remained, he said, essentially peaceful. He said that the five AFSCME locals had "no choice" but to remain on the picket line until a settlement in the protracted dispute had been reached.
"Hogan wouldn't come to the bargaining table without a strike and now he says he won't come with a strike. What else can we do?" said Manner.
The union's decision to strike climaxed 19 months of intense negotiations and almost continuous bickering over a new contract for employes in the union. Because of the contract dispute, these employes, who include some of the county's lowest-paid workers, have gone without a cost-of-living increase granted all other county employes.
In the last few months the county and union had ironed out all economic differences, leaving three basically philosophical issues unresolved. Hogan said he would not sign a contract that included three concerns that the union feels are vital to its survival: a closed shop clause, paid leave time to permit shop stewards to attend meetings, and a full-time chief shop steward. t
By Monday, both sides were indicating a willingness to make some compromises on the three points, but a history of mutual distrust intervened, and finally the union's leadership decided it could wait no longer.
On Monday at 6 p.m., 200 members of the union -- its executive committee, picket captains, local presidents, lawyers and representatives from the international union -- met, and after an emotional two-hour meeting decided that they had no alternative but to strike. The jail guards were included in the strike plan despite warnings that the union could face court action because of the guards' public safety status.
By 9:30 that night, as union officials began to assemble picket signs, word of a strike started to seep out.
Hogan's aides and department heads heard the first strike rumblings around that time when reporters and county employes called to say they had heard strike rumors. Hogan's aides had had no idea that the jail guards intended to walk off the job.
At midnight, Hogan's aides got word from the county jail that prison officials had a "little problem": the night-shift guards had been told by union leaders that they were to spearhead the county's first public employes' strike by walking off the job at midnight. At 12:01 a.m. 16 guards told their supervisors that they were going on strike, and after securing their areas, formed a picket line outside.
As soon as Hogan's aides started to receive reports of a strike involving corrections guards, county attorneys called union lawyers, whom they were scheduled to meet with Tuesday in the presence of federal mediator. The discussions, however, went nowhere.
The county's "little problem" became a "big problem" about a halfhour later when 200 of the jail's 500 inmates began to break out of their cells, smash windows and burn records in several sections of the jail.
As corrections officials called for help from the sheriff department, and state and county police, County Attorney Robert Ostrom dialed the home number of Circuit Court Judge James Rea. It was nearly 1:30 a.m. and Ostrom's call woke Rea. The county attorney told the judge he needed an injunction to prevent the jail guards from leaving their posts, a request to which Rea agreed.
A half-hour later, Rea signed the injunction, which the county had long prepared in advance, and Ostrom drove to the jail, where several copies were served on strikers and union leaders at the strike's first skirmish.
The strikers and their leaders ignored the injunction as the county's combined police efforts restored order to the jail about 4 a.m. yesterday.
An hour later, Hogan drove from his Lanham home to the county administration building in Upper Marlboro, where his top advisers had been plotting labor strategy throughout the night. It was the last trip he would take without a police guard for the duration of the strike.
By 6:45 a.m. yesterday, as Hogan and his aides waited to see whether county employes would heed the union's call to walk picket lines, the first workers began assembling at the administration building and a various spots throughout the county. Prince George's first public employes' strike was under way.