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Law forces county to honor union

May 23, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed legislation Thursday that requires the Washington County Commissioners to restore collective bargaining for county employees.

"It just rights a wrong that never should have been done," said Denny Embly, a 14-year employee with the county landfill and executive board member of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2677.

The new law, which takes effect June 1, is being applauded by Embly and others who were angered when the commissioners abolished union representation for county employees in March and attended the bill-signing ceremony.

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"I think it's really exciting. This is the final chapter in a regrettable event," said William Proctor, an attorney and former AFSCME official who represented the local in the dispute with the county.

On March 18, the commissioners voted 4-1 to abolish collective bargaining rights for county employees. The action ended union representation for 87 workers for the Roads Department, landfill and County Commuter who are AFSCME members.

The commissioners said they were acting in the best interest of the county because dealings with the union had been taking up too much time. They said they also were concerned about a possible union expansion in county government.

But their action drew criticism from union officials and others, and led the county's General Assembly delegation to push for the law to restore collective bargaining.

Some people, including County Commissioner James R. Wade, insisted the delegation's action was a purely political gift to organized labor the year before state elections. The commissioners even wrote a letter to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., asking that the legislation be stopped.

But the legislation easily passed and final approval from Glendening, a longtime supporter of labor, was considered certain.

"I don't think it's any surprise that he's signing it, but it offers some closure to the people who were involved," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who chairs the county delegation.

Officials with several area unions attended the ceremony, as a sign of organized labor solidarity and to voice their displeasure with the commissioners' action.

"I think it really got down to greed," said Jim Stewart, president of UAW Local 171, who attended the bill-signing ceremony.

County employees attending the ceremony said they hope the law will lead to a new and positive relationship between the county government and the unions.

"Hopefully, after June 1 we can just look to a better future," said Doug Levine, a county roads employee and secretary for AFSCME Local 2677.

"We want to go in with open minds," he said, and "put behind us what had happened."

Signing of the bill also brings an apparent end to an issue that opened an acrimonious chasm between the commissioners and the county. Politicians who attended the ceremony said they are determined to put the matter behind them.

"I think that that's over and we're moving forward," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington.

Because the county must rely on the delegation to shepherd local laws through the legislature, good relations between the two government bodies are vital, said County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers.

"That's imperative. It's essential. It's crucial," said Bowers, a Mack Trucks employee and UAW member. Bowers was the only commissioner to attend the ceremony and the only one to support passage of the law.

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