County rescinds workers' bargaining rights

March 19, 1997


Staff Writer

Washington County employees no longer have collective bargaining rights following a Tuesday vote by the Washington County Commissioners.

County Administrator Rodney M. Shoop said 87 unionized Washington County Roads Department, landfill and County Commuter workers are immediately affected by the vote.

The commissioners voted to give those employees the same pay raises and bonuses that other county employees received late last year and at the start of this year.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said negotiations on a new contract with the workers' union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, had reached an impasse.


"There was a lot of requests and we couldn't meet those requests," he said.

The vote effectively eliminates unions from county government, officials said.

"What it does is it puts everybody under the employee handbook - all the employees are being treated the same," Snook said.

County Attorney Richard Douglas said that state law enabling County Commissioners to engage in collective bargaining with groups of employees says the commissioners may, but need not, engage in collective bargaining. The same section of the law also prohibits employees from striking.

The commissioners voted 4-1, with Ronald L. Bowers dissenting, to repeal collective bargaining, Snook said.

County Commissioner James R. Wade said the commissioners were frustrated that the union hadn't accepted several good-faith offers since negotiations began last March.

AFSCME negotiators had "a ridiculous attitude" and didn't understand the needs of local employees, Wade said.

"I just don't think they were getting fair representation. They were basically preventing these workers from receiving the same pay increases that other county employees received in December and January."

AFSCME staff representative Shirley Kirkwood, who had been negotiating with the county, said she believes the county had not been negotiating in good faith. "Our lawyers are going to have to look at this to see if an unfair labor practices charge is in the making. There was no indication to us that they were going to do this."

Kirkwood denied negotiations were at an impasse. She said she had planned to recommend to the workers that they accept the latest offer from the commissioners, which included the same bonuses and increases that nonunion employees received along with other changes to the contract.

"All we wanted was the same offer they gave (non-union) people," she said - a $500 addition to salary and a 2 percent pay hike. "We took everything else off the table," she said.

Bowers, a 35-year United Auto Workers union member at Mack Trucks, said Wednesday the action taken was unfortunate and premature because the membership never had the opportunity to vote on the final proposal.

Kirkwood said the union was originally willing to accept a continuation of the contract with no pay increase because of the water and sewer situation before finding out about pay increases for other county workers.

Wade said the action would also prevent other county employees from becoming union members with collective bargaining. Unless the commissioners change their minds, Teamsters Local 103 would not be allowed to organize the Sheriff's Department, Wade and Human Resources Director Alan Davis said.

"I have always been a believer that we can serve our employees better than a union can," Wade said.

Teamsters business agent and lobbyist Dale McConnell said he didn't think the county had the right to rescind collective bargaining for county employees.

"They are going to wind up in court spending an awful lot of county dollars," McConnell said.

"(Commissioners) are just as anti-labor as they can be. Anything I can possibly do to get them out of office that I can do, I am going to do."

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