On Monday, contract talks broke down between the Prince George's County school board and its teachers. On Tuesday, 71 teachers called in sick. By Wednesday, the "sickout" included 400. The board obtained an injunction that ordered the teachers to honor their labor contract.
The average citizen is weary of reading news of this kind. We all want budget cuts that will permit lower taxes, but nobody wants the disruptions in government services that follow in the wake of budget cuts.
Consider some examples:
In 1979, the contract between Prince George's County and thousands of its employees expired. For a year, the two sides bargained to work out a new contract. The agreement that was finally reached in 1980 granted union members a 4.7 percent wage increase, but County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan vetoed it.
In March of 1980, county employees seemed in a mood to strike. A judge issued an injunction against a strike by jail guards only.
The dispute simmered until August, when Hogan said he would stand firm and "tough it out." Thereupon the jail guards struck and their prisoners immediately started a riot that did extensive damage to the jail.
By Aug. 17, Hogan was considerably less tough in his stance and was offering "further compromises." The injunction against the strike was lifted. oCircuit Judge James M. Rea reprimanded Hogan, ordered the guards back to work with a 9.7 percent cost-of-living increase and the guards complied. In December, the county sued the union for $1.7 million. and on Jan. 22 of this year, Maryland's highest court ruled that Hogan had violated labor laws when he vetoed the contract that had been signed by his own negotiators. Prince George's County residents were left to wonder whether there isn't a better way to resolve conflicts between wage demands and budget cuts.
Another example: On June 2, 1980, 340 corrections officers at the D.C. Jail charged that the jail would become unsafe if proposed budget cuts eliminated scores of guards. They were not taken seriously.
On Sept. 3, budget trims had resulted in 76 fewer guards assigned to the jail and to Lorton Reformatory, so the remaining guards defied a court order and walked out. Within a day, the District government agreed to negotiate the dispute, and the guards went back to work.
One wonders: Isn't there a better way to resolve these issues than to endanger public safety?
The most recent example of inept government was reported at the top of yesterday's first Metro page. It was a story about five D.C. policemen who had been fired from their jobs, had appealed the firings years ago, but were still being paid their full salaries -- plus regular pay increases granted to other officers -- although they were no longer working as policemen.
All five were waiting for Mayor Marion S. Barry's office to review the charged that had led to the original firings. A sixth officer who had been fired and had appealed collected about $40,000 in salary while waiting for the mayor's review and finally quit the police department without his case ever having been adjudicated. In all, $121,000 has been paid out to these six policemen-in-limbo.
Marlene Johnson, Barry's deputy legal counsel, explained that she had been delayed in making recommendations because of "staff shortages" and "her own ignorance of police personnel procedures." She said that when she was given the job two years ago, what she knew about the police department "could fit on the head of a pin."
One must wonder whether a more knowledgeable applicant for the job had not been available, and why staff shortages are permitted to result in such a waste of tax dollars.
Surely there must be a better way to save money than by wasting it. UPDATE
As expected, nobody showed up in a Birmingham court on Wednesday to protest the temporary injunction against the Retail Oil Association's advertisements. The ads had offered to refund 50 cents per gallon on all purchases of gasoline and oil to everybody who sent in $5 "for postage and processing."
The injunction was made permanent, and when I asked First Assistant U.S. Attorney Henry I. Frohsin whether he was considering criminal prosecution he said, "I sure am. But first we've got to catch the guy."