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City union members call for negotiations

December 27, 2001

City union members call for negotiations



By DAN KULIN
dank@herald-mail.com


As hundreds gathered to see the Olympic flame arrive at Hagerstown's Public Square, about 100 city employees from the workers' unions picketed in front of City Hall a block away.

Union representatives said they want Hagerstown's Mayor and City Council to meet them at the negotiating table.

Union members carried signs that read "Support your city workers," "Bad faith bargaining" and "We want negotiations now."

"We just want to get their attention," said Gary Rowe, a public works employee and president of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1540, which represents many employees in the city's water, sewer and public works departments.

Mayor William M. Breichner criticized the unions for picketing on the day the Olympic torch came through downtown.

"This was a day to celebrate the Olympics. (The picketing) could have been done another time," Breichner said.

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Breichner said the city has not negotiated with the unions yet because it is not ready. He said there is no money for employee raises for the current year, and the council must find a solution to rising health insurance costs.

Breichner said the administration might be ready to begin negotiations with the unions in March.

Union leaders defended their decision to picket City Hall as the torch made its way through the city. They noted that they stayed in front of City Hall and did not march through the crowds in nearby the Public Square.

"We didn't want to interfere or disrespect the torch. But we wanted exposure," said Wayne Hose, a city police officer and president of the police officers' AFSCME Local 3373.

"I think the citizens should know that there are disgruntled employees," said Andy Hartman, a city firefighter and president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1605.

"We've heard there's no money, well tell us so, so we can bring that back to our membership," Hartman said.

Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 307 also were on the picket line.

The police and Light Department union members are working under the conditions of contracts that expired in July, and are waiting to negotiate new contracts.

The firefighters and AFSCME Local 1540 members were expecting to renegotiate wages this year.

City Councilman Kristin B Aleshire said the administration and union officials will get together, "But maybe not as quickly as the employees would like."

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