Union election stuck in limbo Police want Teamsters as new bargaining unit

December 10, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

The Teamsters union, which has filed a petition to represent Anne Arundel police officers and deputy sheriffs, is stuck in a bureaucratic turnstile that may ruin its chance of becoming the county's largest law enforcement bargaining unit.

Since October, when more than 400 county police officers filed petition cards calling for a union vote, the Teamsters have been unable to arrange for elections. The vote would dissolve the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 70, which has represented county line officers for 24 years, and make the Teamsters their official bargaining unit.

The county's deputy sheriffs have also filed petitions with the county Office of Personnel for Teamster representation. That bargaining unit has 25 members; the FOP has 487 members.

The reason for the delay is obsolete bureaucracy.

County law calls for the State Mediation Service, a branch of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, to supervise certification votes. There's just one problem: For the county's purpose, the agency was eliminated in 1991 by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

The office was resurrected in May after Gov. Parris N. Glendening's executive order gave state employees collective bargaining rights for the first time. But the agency, operating on a shoestring budget and with staff borrowed from other departments, only helps with state union elections.

"Our attorneys have said that the county can't hold the state to those provisions," said Karen Napolitano, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. "The county can certify someone else to do this. The state doesn't have to."

But the Anne Arundel County code says the state does have to, which leaves the Teamsters with a Catch-22: Only one agency can oversee union certification votes and that agency doesn't exist.

"There is no state agency for Maryland employees to go to to get anything done," said Billy D. Mendenall, who is running the organizing drive for Teamsters, Local 103. "It's not our fault they can't hold an election."

Nonetheless, the Teamsters have the most to lose if the problem isn't solved. Lawyers for the union, which represents 1.4 million public and private-sector workers nationwide, are looking into the matter.

"We may file a lawsuit about this," Mendenall said. "This delay works in other people's favor."

County Attorney Phillip F. Scheibe said he must notify the certified bargaining unit representing police by Jan. 15 to renegotiate the union's employment contract. Unless the Teamsters can call for a vote before then, the FOP would likely remain the police union through next year's contract talks.

County Executive John G. Gary, who has engineered a series of cost-cutting personnel reforms this year, has said he wants to sign a multiyear contract with Anne Arundel's seven bargaining units during labor talks next spring. Those reforms, affecting pay scales and future raises, prompted county police to seek Teamsters representation last summer.

Anne Arundel has not held a certification vote since the State Mediation Service was dissolved five years ago. But other Maryland counties have.

In Prince George's, county labor law allows either the state agency or "any other impartial agency selected by the mutual agreement of the parties" to conduct elections. County bTC personnel officials use the Washington-based American Arbitration Association.

But Anne Arundel's code makes no provision for a third party to supervise union elections. However, Napolitano said she believes Anne Arundel could seek a third party and still remain within the law -- if the Teamsters, county lawyers, and the FOP could agree on that course.

FOP President Dennis P. Howell indicated that he would not agree to such a settlement because, as now written, county law would prohibit any third party except the state from supervising elections.

"I'd hate to be the one to break county law," Howell said.

Pub Date: 12/10/96

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