County delegation votes to restore union

March 27, 1997


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Time ran out Thursday for the Washington County Commissioners, as the county's delegation to the General Assembly agreed to support legislation to restore relations between the commissioners and the union that represented many of their employees.

The 6-0 vote, with two abstentions, came after the delegation had given the commissioners one day to reverse their March 18 decision to abolish collective bargaining rights for county employees.

The commissioners didn't change their minds, so the delegation decided to do it for them.

"It was a difficult move, but I believe it's the right move," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington.

Some commissioners complained the delegation was stepping on their turf.

"I guess they have so little clout down there that they are trying to impose their wishes up here," Commissioner James R. Wade said in a telephone interview.


Wade said the vote was a political move by delegation members to gather support in time for next year's elections. He said he believed the legislative effort would fail.

"I just don't think they've got enough clout in Annapolis to get it done," he said.

Last week, Wade and the other commissioners voted 4-1 to abolish collective bargaining in county government. The move in effect decertified the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2677, a union that had represented 87 Roads Department, landfill and County Commuter workers.

On Thursday morning, the County Commissioners met behind closed doors and again discussed the matter, but didn't change their minds, Wade said.

"The delegation doesn't influence us. They apparently think they do," he said.

Ronald L. Bowers, the only commissioner to oppose decertification, said he urged his colleagues to overturn last week's decision during the closed meeting.

"Over the years, we've always negotiated in good faith and it's worked well," Bowers said. "This was a philosophical difference, and now it's the commissioners against the delegation."

Later in the day, the commissioners faxed a letter to the delegation, thanking members for their interest in county matters but adding that it's the commissioners' responsibility to address the issue.

"We feel it's more of a local issue than a state issue," said Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook.

But John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who chairs the delegation, said the delegation has the authority under the state constitution to address local matters.

"We have every right to be doing what we're doing today," Donoghue said shortly before the delegation vote.

The legislation basically would put into law the collective bargaining resolution the commissioners repealed. It also would include an expiration date, or sunset, of June 30, 1999, when the law would removed from the books.

"It's going to give the next group of County Commissioners the right to control their own destiny," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, who proposed the sunset. He added that if the commissioners decide to decertify a union, the delegation can address the issue again.

Union leaders said they can live with the sunset provision and were happy to be getting legislation.

"I'm satisfied and pleased that the delegates and senators here in Annapolis are taking charge of the situation," said Dale "Rusty" Bowser, a 25-year Roads Department employee and president of Local 2677.

Del. J. Anita Stup, R-Frederick/Washington, and Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, did not vote.

Passing the legislation will require removing wording from a current county bill, which addresses the publishing of local laws, and adding it to another piece of county legislation. The leftover "shell" bill (H.B. 74) will be amended in a Senate committee to include the language that mandates that the county restore collective bargaining.

Delegation members said it requires some difficult legislative choreography and is not a sure thing, especially since there are only 11 days left in this year's session.

"If it's not going to get done, it's not because we did not give it our best shot," Munson said.

Wade said he and other commissioners are prepared to make phone calls, write letters and even travel to Annapolis in an attempt to thwart the legislation.

"I guess we've got to start lobbying to protect ourselves from our own delegation," he said.

Staff Writer Terry Talbert contributed to this story.

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