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Union calls county ruling on collective bargaining 'unfair'

March 21, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

Several union members at the Washington County Roads Department said Thursday they are happy to be getting raises but not that the Washington County Commissioners has taken away their collective bargaining rights.

"I think it was a little premature and unjust," said Wayne Topper, a sign mechanic. Topper said that the membership had scheduled a March 25 vote on the commissioners' latest proposal.

Eighty-seven Roads Department, landfill and County Commuter employees are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2677.

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The commissioners voted Tuesday to rescind collective bargaining rights for county employees and to give those workers the same pay raises that nonunion employees received in December and January.

Topper said one of the things he likes about being a union member is the job security it offers.

"We have a say in our job," he said. "Now, I don't know if we are going to have a say or not."

Topper said he was worried that union members might lose benefits they had under the union contract.

AFSCME leaders have asked the commissioners for a meeting to discuss the matter.

"We are trying to iron this out," said Darlene Strock, the president of AFSCME Council 67, the governing council for all AFSCME city, county and municipal employees in Maryland.

"I feel there has been some miscommunication and misunderstanding on both sides," said Strock, a city of Hagerstown employee for nearly 30 years.

Strock said a ratification vote on the commissioners' latest contract offer had been scheduled for next Tuesday. Shirley Kirkwood, AFSCME staff representative, said more than three quarters of the union workers had voted in principle Wednesday night to approve the commissioners' contract offer.

"We feel that we still have a local in that area and we are still in negotiations," she said.

Roads Department worker Bill Morgan said he felt the union gave him more job security. "Basically, we know that if you follow the rules set forth by the county and agreed to by the union you know you have a job.

"I would like to see a good harmony continue between the county and the union," Morgan said. "I like working for the county."

"These guys are just against the working man," said Roger Hill.

Marvin Levine, a University of Maryland professor of labor relations, said there is no comprehensive state law guaranteeing government employees the right to bargain collectively. It is up to each county to decide if those rights will be given to employees, Levine said.

"The point is if you can join a union but it can't do anything then what good is it. The only thing that employees can do is try to elect pro-union candidates to change the law."

County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Wednesday the commissioners wanted all county employees to be treated the same and that negotiations with the union had reached an impasse.

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