Under the specter of possible layoffs and furloughs, the union that represents Howard County's blue-collar workers is trying to get 400 white-collar and clerical employees of county government to join its ranks.
Officials of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 3085 passed out literature and sign-up cards to white-collar workers entering the main government building last week.
"The white-collar workers will have representation, they'll have somebody to speak for them and address their grievances," Al White, president of the local, said while standing outside the George Howard Building in Ellicott City where he greeted employees reporting to work.
The effort to recruit white-collar employees comes in the midst of a contract dispute between Local 3085 and the county, which White claimed was trying to bust the union. He said the county wants to take back a number of monetary benefits from employees in negotiations for a contract to replace the one that expires in June.
County Administrator Buddy Roogow dismissed the union's recruiting effort in the midst of economic uncertainly in county government. He said the county has always tried to ensure that non-union employees receive the same benefits that their union counterparts get in the collective-bargaining process.
"We have made it clear to union and non-union employees that we consider them as having equal value," he said.
White said workers still would be better off in the union because it can help them in grievances and other work matters. He said the union began its six-month drive to recruit the employees after receiving requests from 100 white-collar workers.
To gain the right to represent a new classification of employees, the union must submit to the county in September a petition verifying that 30 percent of those workers filled out cards asking for membership. Should the petition be ruled valid, an election would be held among the workers in July 1992. The local would need a majority of votes cast to gain the right to represent.
Currently, 725 county government workers are members of four unions and 1,001 do not have union representation, said William Herndon, the county's assistant personnel administrator. White said he is targeting 400 of those unrepresented workers.
Cecelia Fabula, a staff representative of AFSCME Council 67, said she is convinced that non-union workers are more willing than ever to organize. She cited action by the County Council a week ago that gave Ecker the power to freeze merit pay raises of non-union employees and furlough them to help close a projected $31 million budget shortfall.
"Seven years ago, we passed out literature and we didn't get a response," Fabula said. "It's very different now. They feel as though they need representation."
Just about all the employees approached by White and Fabula last week accepted the literature and walked into the building. Some voiced support for the union.
"I've never given it much thought, to tell the truth, but I guess it would work pretty well," said one mid-level supervisor who asked not to be identified. "It's something to think about."
Others, however, said they won't even consider it.
"I don't believe in unions," one woman official said. "I think they're destructive."
A clerical employee said the possibility that Ecker might furlough employees for several days does not alter her opposition to the union.
"I'm very happy with everything we get and I don't think we need them coming in," she said. "I would have to pay dues to them and the benefit would not be there."