THE STRIKE of public employees in Prince George's County ended Monday as county employees returned to work. But the issues that prompted the strike remain unsettled; the strike did not resolve the turmoil that has surrounded the county's relations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for the last 18 months. County Executive Lawrence Hogan still refuses to sign a contract, although a pact agreeable to negotiators for both sides -- even on money issues -- has been worked out since February. Mr. Hogan has ignored findings of unfair labor practices against him by a county hearing examiner and judge. And now he has successfully ignored an 11-day strike by over a third of the county's workers. Mr. Hogan was even victorious in preventing a judge from taking away control of the county jail from him and having guards return to work with a court-ordered cost-of-living increase. That action was blocked pending appeal of the judge's order.
If this is a grudge match, Mr. Hogan is winning, far and away. But what are the honors that go to the victor? Mr. Hogan has already succeeded in negotiating a contract that is favorable to the county. It grants the county's 1,300 AFSCME workers a 4.7 percent cost-of-living increase that other county workers got a year and a half ago and a 5 percent increase in pay for this fiscal year. Even negotiators for the county say the pact is very reasonable, and by comparison to other jurisdictions it is an agreement that any politician could hold up as proof of his ability to prevent the local treasury from being rifled for money by local unions.
Mr. Hogan has that contract available for his signature at any time. And he has proved that he cannot be bullied by strike threats or strikes, and, more important in the political realm, he has shown that a Democratic county council, which sits opposite his Republican administration, is not controlling him. The council had urged Mr. Hogan to sign the contract. Later a county judge found that part of Mr. Hogan's decision not to sign a contract with the union was based on political consideration of how the agreement would look, possibly that some might think the Democrats had successfully forced him to sign the contract. After seven months, it is now evident that no one can force Mr. Hogan to do anything.
So now the county's workers have returned to work, all having lost nine days of pay and having gained few if any concessions from Mr. Hogan. He still refuses to sign a contract with their union. The latest stumbling block to a contract is a union security clause that would require all employees under the union's purview either to belong to the union or to pay a fee to the union. Mr. Hogan aruged in a letter that appeared on this page yesterday that the union security clause is unfair to both taxpayers and employers. Opinions on the subject differ, but the practice is widespread and Mr. Hogan's own negotiators agreed to it earlier.
That clause appears truly to hold substantial problems for Mr. Hogan, who is no fan of unions and does not want to increase the influence and wealth of AFSCME. But one sign of a victor is surely magnanimity: the ability to see when an opponent is defeated and, for the best of all concerned, take the sting of embarrassment out of the defeat. Mr. Hogan need not agree to the union security clause, but he has other bargaining chips in hand to offer the union. Those chips range from money to holidays to benefits. The strike and the union dispute have dragged on too long, and Mr. Hogan will be doing county residents, county workers and himself a favor if he displays sufficient strength to allow the union to save face and allows the county to resume a good relationship with its workers.