In the August 19 edition of the Washington Post several words were inadvertently dropped from a statement made by Prince George's County Executive Lawrence Hogan. When asked about a Circuit Court rulling that briefly prevented Hogan from firing jail guards who walked off the job in a recent strike, Hogan's response should have read, "In the future what deterent will there now be for public safety employes not to go on an illegal strike?"
A Prince George's County Circuit Court judge yesterday placed the county's jail and corrections department under court control after declaring that he could not "stand by idly and let basic functions of government go down the tubes."
Rebuking County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan for his failure to resolve a strike by guards at the county detention center, Judge James M. Rea appointed a trustee to operate the jail indefinitely at county expense. He then ordered the 80 striking guards back to work and issued an injunction forbididng the county from firing any of them, as Hogan had sought to do.
The guards, whose walk-out last Tuesday morning precipitated a three-hour uprising by 200 inmates, voted unanimously to obey the judge's order. They began returning to work at yesterday's 3 p.m. shift, replacing the state police and private security guards who had operated the jail in their place.
Rea also ordered the county to give the corrections officers an immediate 9.7 percent cost-of-living increase that all nonunion county employes have been given since the guards, along with 1,400 other public employes, first began negotiating a new contract with county officials 18 months ago.
Rea's oarder does not affect about 1,400 other county employes who, like the guards, are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and have been on strike since last Tuesday.
Rea's order, which resulted from a hearing called to determine whether the striking guards should be held in contempt of court for defying a court injunction preventing them from striking, clearly took Hogan and other county officials by surprise.
"My reation to Judge Rea's decision is total disbelief," said Hogan. "It is a blatant violation of separation of powers and county charter. In the future, what deterrent will there by for county employes not to go out on strike?
We could've had murders and rapists and all kinds of felons running wild" because of the jail guards' strike and the resulting riot early Tuesday morning, Hogan said. "How that kind of behavior can be forgiven is beyond my comprehension. Instead of their being punished, they were rewarded with a pay raise."
Hogan said he will comply with the court order but has told County Attorney Robert Ostrom to appeal it to the state Court of Special Appeals as soon as possible because of the legal questions involved in a judge taking over a county agency.
Union officials also said they hoped Rea's order would lead to a quick settlement between the county and AFSMCE's four other striking locals.
Union leaders and county officials have been consulting with a federal mediator for the last few days in an attempt to resolve the protracted labor dispute. They have been able to resolve several of the contested tissues, but Hogan's decision to fire the striking jail guards, which Rea's order now prohibits, was considered by all sides to be the major stumbling block in reaching an agreement.
The two sides have agreed to meet again with the mediator at 10 a.m. today.
Rea's order is the second time this summer that a Circuit Court judge has ruled that Hogan acted improperly in his handling of the labor dispute with AFSCME.
Last month, Circuit Court Judge Jacob Levin ruled that Hogan had improperly allowed extraneous political considerations to enter into Hogan's decision last February to veta a tentative agreement on a new contract between the county and the union.
Yesterday, Hogan, a Republican, strongly implied that the decisions were politically motivated. He said, his voice edged with sarcasm, "it has not occurred to me that I acted improperly or that all judges are Democrats. It did not occur to me that Judge Rea was a former head of the Democratic Central Committee either."
Rea issued his order after an hour-long hearing that was called at the county's request to determine whether the guards should be held in contempt of court and fined or jailed for defying an injunction issued by Rea last week that prohibited them from walking off the job.
Union attorneys argued at yesterday's hearing that the county does not have the right to ask the court to intercede on its behalf because the county has consistently demonstrated "bad faith" by refusing to implement past court orders and rulings from other administrative bodies that related to the labor dispute.
"It is the county executive [Hogan] here who is contemptuous," said union lawyer Herbert Belgrad. "It is the county executive who has flaunted provisions of this code, who has dared these people to go out, who has forced this strike. Yet it is these working people who have ended up in court."
County attorney Ostrom asked the court to prevent the guards from picketing the jail and to "stop the harassment of new employes, visitors and truck drivers delivering goods to the jail." He said the county is adamantly opposed to allowing the striking guards to return to work.
"To allow correction guards to return en masse without repercussions, with blanket immunity would encourage anarchy in the future. The county would be at the mercy of the employes. Prince Geroge's would no longer be run by the county government," Ostrom said.
Instead of ruling on the contempt of court issue, Rea told the attorneys that he had decided to take control of the jail to ensure that its services are properly performed and that he will hold off for 30 days before considering on an individuial basis the contempt citations against he jail guards.
Rea told the lawyers that it was his duty to ensure that the jail operates properly and that the rights of prisoners be protected while the county and union resolve their dispute. Therefore, Rea will run the jail through a trustee, although the jail's current director, Arnett W. Gaston, will retain day-to-day control.
The trustee, George M. Gifford, a lawyer who retired last March as a reporter for the state court of appeals, will be paid $200 a day by the county.
Turning to Gaston, Rea said, "Mr. Gifford is your boss today and not Mr. Hogan."
Rea told the two sides he expected them to resolve their contract differences through the federal mediator as soon as possible. "It's high time that a contract is arrive dat between the two parties," he said. 'If this [meetings with a mediator] doesn't solve the labor dispute, the court will have to do something else, like put a few people in jail."