County pay for chief of union is under fire

May 16, 1993|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

The head of Anne Arundel County government's larges employee union spends his work time conducting union business at taxpayers' expense.

While other county union officials perform most union business on their own time or get a supervisor's permission to take the time, or the union members pay their salaries, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 582 head Marvin Redding has his $37,045 annual salary paid by the county, even though he is a full-time union head no longer doing is regular road crew duties.

"At a time when people are losing their jobs, I think you need somebody the most for protection," said Mr. Redding, who worked as a road crew chief until he assumed the presidency of the union in 1987.

The long-established practice, hardly unique to the county, is coming under fire as County Executive Robert R. Neall is proposing to eliminate 312 positions, which he expects will cost 100 workers their jobs.

"When you are looking at the prospect of laying off people," this would be a prime area to cut expenses, said Michael J. Milanowski, who until last month was the county's director of labor relations.

"The taxpayers are subsidizing union activities," said Mr. Neall, whose administration tried to stop the practice last year but was turned back at a County Council hearing.

Robert Schaeffer, president of the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association, called the county-paid union presidency an "abhorrent practice."

And a former Department of Utilities emergency dispatcher said the practice hurts union members, splitting the president's loyalties between the people who elected him and the people who sign his paycheck.

"How is he going to be in your corner 100 percent if he is being paid by management?" asked Walter Holtz, who was fired in 1988 after a dispute over working conditions and job performance. He unsuccessfully sued the county and union.

The county also provides an office for Local 582, in a building behind dirt bins at the Department of Utilities in Glen Burnie. Mr. Milanowski, who is now the personnel director for Coral City, Fla., said the space otherwise would be empty.

But the county does not pay Local 582's telephone bill, or for Mr. Redding's beeper, half-time assistant or car. Nor does it monitor his hours. Mr. Redding is not paid overtime for what he called 60-hour workweeks on union business. His salary since 1990 has been $37,045.

Until this year, Mr. Redding was among the road crew workers willing to work overtime, generally on weekends and holidays and late at night. In 1990, county records show he earned $1,683.07 for 62 hours of overtime; in 1991, $845.98 for 30 hours; in 1992, $1,222.24 for 50 hours. This year, Mr. Redding says he's been too busy with union work to do any overtime.

Mr. Redding, who represents about 830 AFSCME members, said the union president saves the county money and aggravation. He can step in to try to resolve workplace problems before they mushroom into ill will and grievance hearings, he said.

"In reality, all I do is county business," Mr. Redding said, referring to negotiating contracts, investigating and contesting demotions and firings, filing grievances, and helping employees and retirees with benefits.

"I think the accountability has to do with the person you elect to the job," Mr. Redding said. "It has nothing to do with who pays who."

Other unions have sought unsuccessfully to have the county fund a full-time president. But county officials traditionally have accommodated the police union by assigning its head to a job flexible enough to allow him to take care of union business, said Herbert Weiner, lawyer for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 70.

Paid time off for union leaders is handled in a patchwork of ways throughout the Baltimore-Washington area. Practices include small amounts of time off for negotiations and grievances, union heads whose salaries are paid by the membership, and unions and governments that split the salaries.

In Montgomery County, each member of the police and fire unions contributes three hours of vacation time a year to help pay the presidents' salaries.

In Baltimore County, chiefs of four of the five unions have their salaries paid by the county, and they concentrate exclusively on union business. That practice is "on the table," county Labor Commissioner Arthur K. Davis said.

The Anne Arundel County practice dates back to 1983, when O. James Lighthizer was county executive, although it was not written into the union contract until 1987. Time sheets in 1985 and 1986 for then-Local 582 President John F. Mangum indicate he had been released from his regular job to devote his work time strictly to union matters.

In negotiating the 1983 pact, Mr. Mangum said, "We convinced the County Council and the county executive that it was a wise thing to have."

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