Hayden has meeting with union leaders

January 08, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

After three years of increasingly strained relations with county employee labor groups, Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden invited union leaders to the first of a series of luncheon discussions this week.

Mr. Hayden refused yesterday to comment on Tuesday's meeting, according to Ann Dandridge, his spokeswoman.

Merreen E. Kelly, the county's administrative officer, said the meetings are merely an extension of meetings held with workers in every county department over the past six months. He said that Mr. Hayden will not discuss labor negotiations with the union chiefs during the informal sessions.

For example, Mr. Hayden did not tell the five union leaders if county workers will get a pay raise in July, Mr. Kelly said. That irked Lt. Timothy Caslin, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, who said that the meeting had no agenda and that Mr. Hayden offered no answers to union complaints.

All the unions have contracts with the county, except for the police who are working under terms of their expired contract.

Though union leaders welcomed the chance to speak with Mr. Hayden on a regular basis, several said they worry that the initiative may be merely an election year ploy to mollify them.

"If he really wants to listen, it's a good thing," said Kevin O'Connor, head of the firefighters union, who said that Mr. Hayden has "not been receptive" to labor's message.

However, Mr. O'Connor, who has been Mr. Hayden's harshest labor critic, praised the executive's offer of an "open-door" policy from now on, even between luncheons.

Relations between Mr. Hayden and the labor groups became strained over the past several years as Draconian budget cuts forced by the recession made workers' jobs harder, stopped purchases of new equipment and, finally, led to unprecedented layoffs of 290 county workers last February. Two groups of laid-off workers have sued the county.

County workers also had a five-day unpaid furlough in 1992 and haven't had a general pay raise since Jan. 1, 1991.

Last March, leaders of the firefighter and police unions threatened to work against Mr. Hayden in this year's election. Their threat was part of an effort to rally opposition to a Hayden administration proposal to change the accident-leave policy, in effect to reduce employee benefits.

Lieutenant Caslin of the police union supports Mr. Hayden's overture to the unions.

"At least we'll be able to get his ear," he said. "We're happy about that."

Edward M. Pedrick Jr., president of the blue-collar American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 921, said, "[The meetings are] probably something that should have been going on all along. I think it was a positive thing."

Dorothy Whittaker, representing public health nurses, and John J. Merzbacher, interim president of the new white-collar labor group called the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees, also were present.

Mr. Merzbacher was suspended without pay from his county job as a county 911 operator yesterday, after being arrested Thursday night on 86 counts of sexual abuse. The charges relate to the period when he was a teacher in a Baltimore Catholic school in the 1970s.

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