Area activist attempts to unionize association No need for one, member of Columbia Council says

August 04, 1996|By Dan Morse and Erica C. Harrington | Dan Morse and Erica C. Harrington,SUN STAFF

Columbia activist Robert S. Ardinger is trying to organize an employee union at the Columbia Association (CA), the huge homeowners association that employs nearly 200 full-time staff to manage the planned community's parklands and recreational facilities.

"I think there is interest," said Ardinger, who said that he had spoken with "about seven" CA staff members about forming a union.

Ardinger, who in 1994 ran unsuccessfully for the House of Delegates seat now occupied by Shane Pendergrass, hopes to meet soon with more employees. He is concerned about wages and grievance procedures.

Pamela J. Mack, a CA spokeswoman, said the only unionizing effort she was aware of was for about 20 CA transportation workers who two years ago belonged to the Teamsters union. Howard County took over public transportation in July.

Wanda Hurt, a member of the CA's governing body, said CA does not need a union. "I've talked to employees and I haven't heard anyone say they are unhappy," said Hurt, who represents Owen Brown village on the 10-member Columbia Council. "I think we have fair wages, and we have fair hours."

Ardinger said he is circulating a flier about the need for a union among the staff.

But Thursday, Mack said she had not heard of the flier. Two CA employees at the Columbia Athletic Club also said they had not seen it. Ardinger sent a copy of the flier by fax to The Sun.

Ardinger, who owns a firm called Ardinger Consultants and Associates, said that his interest in unionizing CA workers was sparked by assertions by Hurt in a local business journal that "a right-to-work law would be good for business in Maryland."

Such a law -- in effect in Virginia and other states -- would ban compulsory union membership.

But in an interview, Hurt said Ardinger is unfairly characterizing an article she wrote for the Columbia Business Monthly last spring, which she said was an objective story about debate on the issue in the state General Assembly.

"I didn't take any sides because I don't have any sides," Hurt said.

The article, which appeared in the May issue, does not use the exact words cited by Ardinger, but generally favors enacting a right-to-work law in Maryland.

Moody's Investment Service in New York, which gives CA a favorable bond rating, takes note of the fact, among other things, that its employees are nonunion.

Ardinger, an activist on disability and civil rights issues, persuaded CA several years ago to build a disabled-accessible entrance at CA's Supreme Sports Club, said Ardinger and CA officials.

Last July, he resigned from Howard County's Equal Business Opportunity Commission, saying the group was not serious about opportunities for female. minority and disabled business owners.

In 1994, Ardinger finished a distant sixth in a six-way Democratic primary race for the District 13A seat in the House of Delegates. He received 656 votes. Hurt finished fourth with 2,177 votes.

Hurt said she did not think Ardinger's organizing efforts were related to the election.

Throughout the year, CA employs hundreds of seasonal and part-time employees. In the summer, CA's work force swells to about 1,300, Mack said.

pTC The association has 178 full-time employees, 71.9 percent of whom earn less than $35,000 a year -- with 41 percent making less than $25,000 a year.

Of CA's year-round part-time staff of 644, 68.9 percent earn a yearly income of less than $15,000.

Of 514 seasonal staff members, including lifeguards and ice-rink employees, 78.4 percent earn less than $15,000 a year.

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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