Owens' victory owes much to unions' help Hostility toward Gary propelled labor effort

Election 1998

November 05, 1998|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and Kris Antonelli contributed to this article.

When Janet S. Owens ascended to the stage Tuesday night in victory over County Executive John G. Gary, public employee unions shared the spotlight.

Owens, who had more than 700 campaign workers bearing the union label, found political strength in county workers alienated by what she called Gary's "schoolyard bully" personality.

Their support translated into an overwhelming victory for Owens and demonstrated surprising influence in local politics.

Unions "have played a role, but they haven't been the deciding factor," said Kathleen A. Shatt, chairwoman Democratic Central Committee. "But this year what teachers did tipped the scales."

Gary has angered county employees with sparse raises and name-calling in labor negotiations. He haggled over 4 cents in one union negotiation and held raises below cost-of -living adjustments with others but gave his top lieutenants substantial bonuses.

A nasty fight with Superintendent Carol S. Parham over the budget spurred teachers into action.

"We knew that in order to save public schools in Anne Arundel County, we had to change the county executive," said Susie Jablinske, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County.

The union, which represents about 4,000 Anne Arundel teachers, rallied an estimated 500 members to answer phones, work polls, knock on doors and distribute literature for Owens.

"It's exciting that this grass-roots, silent majority uprising could defeat a $600,000 war chest," Jablinske said, referring to Gary's campaign fund.

Teachers were not the only county employees to join the anti-Gary crusade. County firefighters, blue-collar workers, clerical and technical workers devoted time and energy to Owens' campaign.

"We told her we would give her as much support as we could," said Leroy Wilkison, former president of the county Professional Firefighters union. "We see her as a people person who will try to work with people on things that affect them," he said.

Now, the unions are expecting Owens to provide a bigger school budget and perhaps better pay.

"I expect to be treated fairly at the table and, if the money is available, we'll be able to get our fair share" said Scott Harmon, president of the 900-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 582 representing county blue-collar workers.

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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