End of an era for leader of county workers union Barrett returning to inspector job

October 26, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Morris W. Barrett 3rd's round, jovial face and snow-white Santa Claus beard have been a fixture around Baltimore County government for 15 years, but no more.

County white-collar workers recently voted to drop the union that represented them and which Mr. Barrett led. Now, the 32-year county employee is returning to Cockeysville to resume his life as a public works inspector.

Since county workers achieved collective bargaining rights in 1977, Mr. Barrett has virtually personified the Baltimore County Classified Employees Association (BCCEA), which represented the county's 1,600 white-collar workers. He has led the union since 1978.

But that's all over now.

On Oct. 15, white-collar workers voted 3-to-1 to drop BCCEA, which had represented them for 27 years. Union members have been hit hard in recent years. They swallowed pay cuts and went without raises. Then, County Executive Roger B. Hayden laid off 392 people in February, and destroyed the illusion that government jobs are safe in hard times.

The county's white-collar workers now are represented by a new AFL-CIO-affiliated union -- the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees.

That group already is handling grievances, trying to sign up members and organize.

Mr. Barrett, 49, hasn't done regular county work since 1991. He said he returned from a Florida vacation that year and learned of a new perk in BCCEA's new contract allowing union presidents to do nothing but union work -- and still get paid by the county.

Before that change, Mr. Barrett, who became a county employee five months after graduating from Parkville High School in June 1961, split his time between union duties and public works jobs.

Mr. Barrett, a north county resident, had no complaints about his fate.

"Right now I want to take a break," he said Friday as he cleaned out the files in his small office on the second floor of a county-owned house in Towson. "I've enjoyed [the union presidency]. I try to treat people fair.

"I think county employees are great. They don't mean [the vote] personally," he said, explaining that he didn't take the loss as a rejection of his efforts.

Mr. Barrett said he wishes he could have done more for county workers the past two years, but cherishes memories of individual workers his group helped.

He cited the recent decision rejecting a plan to turn the county vehicle repair shop over to private contractors as one of his biggest joys.

Some county government observers say Mr. Barrett and his association had a reputation for being too accommodating to county executives. Mr. Barrett disagrees.

"We probably did more picketing than any other group, and there's the lawsuit," he said, referring to a Maryland Classified Employees Association suit to overturn the layoffs.

With all the reverses county employees have suffered in the past three years, Mr. Barrett said any incumbent labor union would have lost an election.

"I'm going to enjoy going back to work. Not so many night meetings and more free time," he said, adding that he may return to his hobby -- leather working.

"I'm going to miss a lot of the people."

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