Ft. Meade union seeks pledge on job security Prison camp plan worries local chief

September 23, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

The union representing civilian workers at Fort Meade wants assurances their members' jobs will not be taken over by prisoners from a state prison boot camp that may be moved to the Odenton post.

Under plans supported by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and recently embraced by the garrison commander at Fort Meade, the boot camp would move into 29 unused Army barracks in exchange for free inmate labor on the base.

"I do not want anything in which the civilian work force would be impacted," said Lonnie Howie, president of Local 1622 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 2,000 workers at Fort Meade.

Mr. Howie said the union does not object to the prison camp moving on base, but said he wants assurances in writing that civilian jobs will not be jeopardized. "As long as it does not affect my workers, I don't care about it," he said.

The union president said inmates should not be allowed to paint, cut grass (except along state roads that go through the post) or do clerical work.

He said garrison commander Col. Robert G. Morris III has assured him the issues will be discussed and a policy put in writing if the boot camp is approved for the base.

Local 1622 is the largest union on the base, which employs about 5,000 civilian employees, not including 25,000 at the top-secret National Security Agency.

The work inmates would perform at Fort Meade and nearby Odenton has never been specified, though officials have said it would include minor repairs and picking up roadside trash.

State officials proposed moving the boot camp to Fort Meade last year to make room for women prisoners at its crowded complex in Jessup and to expand the camp from 365 inmates to 500.

The camp features a rigorous six-month course aimed at changing attitudes of first- and second-time nonviolent offenders.

Local community groups and politicians ranging from County Executive Robert R. Neall to both Maryland senators have vehemently opposed the move, arguing the site is too close to homes and does not fit in with plans to change the base from a military training ground to a "federal office park."

Colonel Morris decided two weeks ago to pursue the state's proposal, despite the opposition. The issue is now in the hands of the Department of the Army, which will make a final decision.

Colonel Morris, however, apparently has decided that debate on the boot camp is over.

On Sept. 10, he issued a memo over electronic mail to all directors forbidding further comment, at least while on duty.

"There is to be no more public discussion about the boot camp proposal for Fort Meade," says the memo, which advises that all inquiries be referred to the public affairs office. "No personal views or opinions are to be discussed on duty!"

A spokesman for the base, Don McClow, said he would not characterize the memo as a gag order, although he said it pertained to civilian as well as military workers.

Mr. McClow said the key words in the memo are "on duty." He said no attempt is being made to stifle further discussion of the controversial issue by military or civilian workers, as long as their comments come on their own time.

"Off-duty, it's a free country," he said.

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