Teamsters want police in the fold Union organizer, an ex-officer, makes a strong pitch

'The interest is very high'

Union is offering to negotiate officers' next contract

June 23, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

In a dilapidated former funeral home turned Teamsters hall in Brooklyn works Billy D. Mendenall, a jocular ex-police officer and itinerant union organizer for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

He is 56 and lives, at least through this summer, in an Annapolis Residence Inn. Mendenall arrived in February to persuade Maryland State Police officers to join the Teamsters. Since then, he has been charting union inroads from behind a desk littered with stray papers and full ash trays.

Anne Arundel is on his map, its Republican administration in his sights.

"Now the county administration has the final say on labor matters," said Mendenall, in a cloud of smoke. "That wouldn't be the case if we were here. The public would have the final say."

The Teamsters union, once known as the union of Jimmy Hoffa and organized crime, wants to become the union of police officers. So Mendenall has set up camp in Maryland, which he describes as 25 years behind similar industrial states in public-sector labor law. State workers were awarded collective bargaining rights this year that have been commonplace in Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York and other so-called labor states for decades.

Anne Arundel is one of four Maryland counties in which the union hopes to enter in the coming months by organizing the county's 500 front-line police officers. The Teamsters union has offered to negotiate the Anne Arundel officers' next contract for free if they join. A new Teamsters union, Local 1911, already has been chartered to represent Maryland's police membership.

If the organizing is successful, Anne Arundel would become the latest Teamster victory, part of a national push in places like Florida, California and Minnesota to expand the union's public-sector membership. The Teamsters union is in 700 police departments across the country, and growing its 30,000-strong police membership is a top priority.

In the last 18 months, police in three Florida cities have voted to replace bargaining units with Teamster locals to tap into financial and numeric clout.

The Teamsters went right to work in Daytona Beach, population 50,000. Following a political blitz, fed by Teamster money, membership and mailers, city voters removed the mayor and four city commissioners in municipal elections last fall. Only two commissioners remain on the panel.

"We're not asking politicians to do anything immoral," said Danny Peterson, president of Teamsters Local 385 in Orlando, Fla. "We just want them to listen with open ears when we come before them."

Last week, roughly 35 Anne Arundel officers gathered in the Harundale Mall to hear Mendenall's pitch. For 26 years, Anne Arundel police have been represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 70, a social club turned bargaining unit. Its role is now being questioned.

Several of the officers, now members of the FOP, said they liked what they heard from Mendenall, a former Flint, Mich., officer, and three police officers flown in from Minnesota and California for the meeting.

"The interest is very high," said one officer, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of on-the-job retribution. "They were very straightforward and honest, dispelling promises of utopia. One of the main selling points is that they understand police officers."

For the Teamsters to take over, the FOP membership would have to vote to decertify the union as the officers' bargaining unit after Oct. 1. A faction within the police union is gathering the required 150 signatures to file an election petition by that date with the county personnel office.

The move is the result of a harsh winter and spring at the bargaining table. A Republican-majority council sided with County Executive John G. Gary to settle labor impasse hearings last month, blaming the county's tax ceiling for a tight budget. The seven-member council has only two solid labor votes -- North County Democrats George F. Bachman and James E. DeGrange.

Last week, the firefighters' union voted to reject the council's settlement, which for the third consecutive year did not include raises for personnel, and will abide by its 1995 contract. The police union fared no better: A blistering radio and newspaper ad campaign against Gary failed to win pay or benefit increases.

In addition, county legislation tying raises to performance has been approved, and a bill that would recast Anne Arundel's $750 million pension system is being considered. Last week, six police officers filed for retirement before pension changes take effect.

The barrage has left union members questioning their power and the county's system for settling contracts.

Now an impasse is settled in binding arbitration by a County Council accused of cleaving to Gary's agenda. To change that, FOP members are gathering signatures to place a measure on the November ballot that would allow an independent arbitrator to settle any impasse. Mendenall calls third-party arbitration "helpful but not necessary" in winning union demands.

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