Police, Teamsters meeting could be turning point Pitch may determine fate of FOP union

June 19, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County police will meet tonight with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a symbol of strong-arm unionism that the county's beleaguered police force may turn to for protection.

The meeting represents a turning point for the 500-member Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 70.

A membership vote is not expected, but the success of the Teamster sales pitch could determine the police union's fate.

Meanwhile, confident Teamster leaders are sparing little recruiting expense. They will fly in new members from California and Minnesota to testify in favor of the union, which has worked hard in the past five years to shed a reputation for corruption.

"We do everything right," said Billy D. Mendenall, head of Teamster Local 103 in Baltimore. "But it's their choice."

Reeling from setbacks at the bargaining table and the Gary administration's aggressive cost-cutting campaign, the police union is facing a serious challenge to its leadership for the first time in 26 years representing Anne Arundel's line officers.

One faction of roughly 65 officers is advocating a dissolution of the union so members can join the Teamsters.

Meanwhile, the FOP leadership has begun collecting 10,000 signatures to qualify a measure for the November ballot that would allow independent arbitration to settle labor disputes.

"I see the desire for the pit bull," said Dennis P. Howell, president of the local FOP lodge. "But you can't put a pit bull in the ring with a white elephant.

"And that's what we have -- a system driven by politics, collective bargaining that's really collective begging. That's not going to change by simply bringing in a new union."

The County Council resolves deadlocked labor negotiations now, and Anne Arundel's public-employee unions are prohibited from striking. But union leaders say the Republican-majority council is too closely allied with County Executive John G. Gary, who campaigned in 1994 on a platform that included personnel reform.

Last month, council members sided with the Republican administration on all major points against police and fire unions to establish the terms of next year's labor contract, which omits pay raises for the third consecutive year.

The result left many police officers questioning their union's clout.

With in-house lawyers and public relations consultants, the resurgent Teamster union has been portrayed by some FOP members as refuge from the Gary's campaign to cut personnel costs. Pay and benefits account for 75 percent of county spending.

On Monday, the council began debating the administration's 41-page pension bill, which seeks to recast the county's $750 million retirement system.

The legislation, which will be debated through the summer, follows passage of a personnel bill that ties future pay raises to employee performance.

Despite union criticism, the administration has moved ahead on the support of a council majority.

"I don't believe the change to the Teamsters would have any effect whatsoever on the direction of this administration," said County Attorney Phillip F. Scheibe.

With 1.4 million members and a $100 million national budget, the Teamsters represent a broad membership -- from truck drivers to flight attendants.

Police have been one of the fastest-growing segments of the union in the last five years; Maryland State Police officers also are considering joining the 3,000-member Teamster Local 103. There are 35,000 Teamster members statewide.

Pub Date: 6/19/96

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