The administration of Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan has deciden to fire 37 of the 90 jail guards who participated in last month's 11-day public employes strike.
County Attorney Robert Ostrom, who disclosed the decision yesterday, said the 53 other strikers will face the maximum fine allowed by county personnel law -- 3 percent of their gross annual salary, in each case more than $325.
In explaining the action, Corrections Department Director Arnette W. Gaston noted that the guards' walkout at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 12 triggered a three hour rampage by jail inmates. The disturbance was quelled when police, sheriff's deputies and state troopers stormed the building's second floor and regained control.
"We could have had a wholesale slaughter," said Gaston. "We could have had an Attica."
The disciplinary action fulfills a pledge by Hogan to deal severely with the guards, whose walkout spearheaded the strike by the county government's locals of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which have 1,500 members.
Following the disturbance at the jail in Upper Marlboro, Hogan tried to fire 121 of the 126 guards who staff the facility. He was blocked by a Circuit Court judge, but the judge's ruling was in turn overruled by an appeals court and disciplinary action has been pending since the guards went back to work.
The 90 guards -- the number the county government has now determined participated in the strike -- should receive formal notice of their punishment decided on by the county government early next week. They will be able to appeal.
"When you act in the interest of the public safety, that is a full-time commitment," said Corrections Department Director Gaston. "Any time you capriciously abrogate that commitment, then you have to pay the price."
Union attorney Kenneth Niman called the discipline excessive and said, "It'll be challenged through whatever procedures there are."
"It's a tremendous number of people to be firing for any job action," he said. "It's very, very unusual when there are any firings at all."
Ostrom said he expects the punishments to stand up to any challenge. "We're doing the utmost to follow the letter and spirit of the personnel law," he said.
Gaston, who interviewed the guards individually last week, said it was "the original feeling" of many county officials, including himself, "that everyone should be dismissed."
Officials later decided that those who left the jail unguarded when the strike began, urged others to join the walkout, or joined picket lines should be punished more severely than those who simply failed to report to work, Ostrom said.
Gaston said the eight striking sergeants will be punished severely, but would not say whether all eight will be dismissed. "There's no doubt that younger officers were encouraged to strike because they saw some sergeants out there on that picket line,
Only the guards among the striking union members are to be punished because in the county's view their walkout was illegal. It came in defiance of a last-minute court order. That order was subsequently suspended on appeal, but the question of legality is still before the state courts.
The AFSCME's strike climaxed 19 months of acrimonious negotiation in which Hogan refused to yield to several demands involving union prerogatives. Pay was not an issue in the dispute.
The strike ended Aug. 22 without significant concessions to the union, whose leaders say several key issues in the labor dispute now can be decided by the courts.