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Union disputes labor election

June 06, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

A union that represents many correctional officers and other state workers in Maryland is challenging the validity of elections that gave another labor organization the right to bargain for wages and other benefits for thousands of state employees.

The Maryland Classified Employees Association (MCEA) is seeking an injunction against implementation of the results of four of the elections won by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in Washington County Circuit Court.

"The state did not provide a level playing field in processing these representation elections. The elections were unfair and seriously damaged by the state," said MCEA Executive Director W. Frank Masters.

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The lawsuit names Gov. Parris N. Glendening and other state officials as defendants. Glendening spokesman Raymond Feldmann declined to comment, referring questions to Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation Secretary Eugene A. Conti Jr., who also was named as a defendant.

Conti, through a spokeswoman, said he was aware of the lawsuit but would not comment until he sees the document.

The issue goes back a year, when Glendening signed an executive order that divided the state workers into nine "units" depending on their job classification, giving each group the right to elect a single representative to negotiate wages and benefits.

Previously, four different unions, including MCEA and AFSCME, had represented correctional officers at the state prison complex south of Hagerstown, but they could not collectively bargain for wages and benefits.

AFSCME, in alliance with the Teamsters, won the election to represent about 8,000 of the state's correctional officers and probation officers, including about 1,600 in Washington County. It also won elections to represent four other bargaining units. MCEA and other unions were allowed to continue to represent state workers in grievances and other labor matters.

The lawsuit alleges the elections that had AFSCME winning collective-bargaining representation rights of four of the units, including the correctional officers, "were illegal and thus unenforceable" and violated MCEA's right of due process.

The lawsuit maintains that MCEA was denied information and specific guidelines on the elections from state officials.

"I think it was vague to the point of being legally faulty," said J. Edward Davis, an attorney representing MCEA.

An AFSCME official denied the lawsuit's allegations.

"They got the same information as everybody else at the same time as everybody else did," said Ray McInerney, an AFSCME lobbyist in Annapolis. "So it sort of smacks of sour grapes."

Davis said he filed the lawsuit in Washington County because he did not want to have the matter delayed by heavier court dockets in the metropolitan area.

If a judge grants the injunction, the issue of the elections' validity would still have to be decided in court, he said.

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