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Law would force county to bargain with union

March 21, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County lawmakers are considering sponsoring legislation that would force the County Commissioners to restore relations with the union that represents county roads workers and other employees.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said he is trying to schedule a meeting for Wednesday in Annapolis so that representatives from the county and the union can present their sides of the story to the county's delegation in the Maryland General Assembly.

The eight-member delegation would then vote on whether to pursue legislation, he said.

Donoghue, who heads the county delegation, said he's leaning toward supporting a bill. "But I want them to come to us and explain what's going on," he said.

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Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, agreed.

"I really don't know enough about the current situation to know what the commissioners did or why they did it," he said.

On Tuesday the commissioners voted to rescind collective bargaining rights for the 87 county Roads Department, landfill and County Commuter employees who are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2677. The commissioners voted to give those workers the same pay raises that nonunion employees received in December and January.

Some lawmakers said they were taken aback by the commissioners' action.

"I'm very concerned. I think it sends a very strong message to county employees," Donoghue said. He added that the move could set a precedent for other local governments, like the city of Hagerstown, to take similar action with unions that represent their workers.

County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Friday evening that he had not heard about the delegation's intentions to hold a meeting to consider legislation.

"I guess I need to know what they are going to do" before commenting, Snook said.

If Washington County lawmakers get involved in the issue, it wouldn't be the first time the delegation has found itself dealing with county-employee relations. In 1992 the delegation passed legislation that said the commissioners "may" negotiate with unions.

If the delegation decides to do so, it could strengthen the law's language so it says the county "shall" negotiate with unions, Donoghue said.

"It certainly can be done," said Bill Proctor, a former business agent for AFSCME Council 67 and an attorney representing the union in this matter.

Darlene Strock, the president of AFSCME Council 67 and a city of Hagerstown employee, said she's all for the delegation's involvement if it brings an end to the issue with the union's authority restored.

"I welcome anything that's going to help resolve the matter," she said.

Whatever lawmakers decide, it will have to happen soon. The current General Assembly session ends April 7.

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