County to seek outside ruling on union

February 26, 1998


Staff Writer

The Washington County Commissioners have rejected a recommendation from their labor lawyer that they rule that the union representing about 85 county roads, landfill and bus workers had engaged in unfair labor practices.

The commissioners wrote in a letter dated Tuesday that they will take their unfair labor practice charge against the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to an independent mediator rather than decide the matter on their own.

Commissioners President Greg Snook and Commissioner Jim Wade said Wednesday they decided against the recommendations of their lawyer, Frank Kollman, of Kollman & Sheehan in Baltimore, because they wanted to give an independent party a chance to look at the situation and come up with a fair solution.


Kollman told the commissioners in December that they should rule that the union had committed unfair labor practices and order the union to pay some of the county's legal fees.

Kollman had told the commissioners in December that waiting to go before the mediator could cost the county another $50,000 in legal fees. Kollman makes $190 an hour.

Kollman said Wednesday that the $50,000 figure was a worst-case scenario.

His law firm charged the county nearly $117,000 in legal fees from October 1996 through December 1997, according to county records.

According to the records, $68,465 was attributed to the labor negotiations and the rest to other legal matters.

Kollman said the hearing before the neutral mediator, Ira Jaffe, is scheduled for March 4.

The mediator only has the power to make a recommendation to the County Commissioners, Kollman said.

Kollman said the union had repeatedly violated the state law mandating collective bargaining that the union fought to have enacted last year after the commissioners voted to decertify the union.

Kollman said that the county and the union had reached an agreement on all eight issues that must be negotiated under the state law, but the union refused to sign an agreement because the county refused to negotiate other issues, including vacations, a dues check-off procedure, holidays, health insurance and retirement benefits.

Kollman said holding an agreement hostage to those nonmandatory issues was an unfair labor practice.

Joel Smith, a Baltimore attorney hired by AFSCME, had argued in December that the commissioners shouldn't be judge and jury for a dispute in which they are a party and should wait for a neutral mediator.

Bowers:Reinstate old contract now

County Commissioner Ron Bowers said Wednesday that the county wouldn't be in this mess if the other commissioners hadn't tried to decertify the union last year. Bowers said the county should reinstate the old contract now and stop spending money on Kollman.

Bowers also said Kollman's contract should be voided because he had been paid more than $25,000 without going out to bid or going through a sole source process, which Bowers said was a requirement under the law. Kollman should pay back anything he's received over $25,000, Bowers said.

County Attorney Richard Douglas has said the county didn't need to go out for bid for Kollman's services because of an exception to the law for legal services.

The union hasn't had a contract with the county since July 1, 1996.

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