Klosterman seeks to alter county code

Council leader wants arbitrator, not Owens, to settle labor disputes

Power struggle emerges

Plan comes in wake of AFSCME local's impasse over raises

Anne Arundel

July 20, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

In something of a power struggle, the chairman of the County Council is trying to take away County Executive Janet S. Owens' authority to settle union contract talks that reach impasse.

Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. wants the council to be able to give an independent arbitrator final say when union and county negotiators cannot agree. Under current law, the council may make recommendations, but the executive may disregard them.

Although Owens blasted the council's attempt in the spring to influence pay raises for county blue-collar workers, in 1998 she suggested to a union political action committee that she would be willing to cede control over contracts to an arbitrator if it was consistent with "constitutional principles." She made the comment in response to a candidate questionnaire.

Klosterman's proposal, which runs counter to Maryland's tradition of strong executive power, comes after unsuccessful negotiations by Local 582 of AFSCME this spring.

After union and county officials went through mediation and fact-finding, the council recommended a 3 percent raise this year, only to have Owens ignore it and award 2 percent. The union - the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - had sought 4.6 percent.

Owens is on vacation and was unavailable for comment yesterday, a spokesman said.

Klosterman's proposed change, because it would modify the county charter, or constitution, would have to be approved by county voters. To be put on the November ballot, five of seven council mem- bers must vote for it at the Aug. 7 council meeting.

A Baltimore labor lawyer who represents three Anne Arundel County union locals said the change would take some pressure off Owens because protracted labor disputes no longer would be dropped at her doorstep.

"Everybody gets all hyped up about it, and then she's put on the spot of accepting it or not," said F. J. Collins, who represents county firefighters and two units of AFSCME.

"It would put in the hands of an expert some real authority to make a real determination of what is the right thing to do," he said.

In the spring, he represented AFSCME Local 582 in its lengthy attempt to reach a new contract for its nearly 1,000 blue-collar workers.

"It was quite frustrating for Local 582 to go through this whole process outlined in county code for resolving these things, and then have the county executive, by fiat, say no," Collins said.

Klosterman, a Millersville Democrat who has been on good terms lately with Owens, could not be reached for comment yesterday. He introduced the resolution Monday.

Councilman John J. Klocko III, a Crofton Republican who sharply criticized Owens' handling of the contract issue, said he supports the intent of the measure. But he said it might be wiser to let a charter review commission study the idea during its review of the charter next year.

If Anne Arundel does move to arbitration, it will follow the lead of Baltimore City and Prince George's County, Collins said. In Baltimore, impasse triggers "last offer arbitration." That means an arbitrator chooses between the two latest offers from both sides, which Collins said encourages each to present a reasonable proposal.

In Baltimore County, the process is similar to Anne Arundel's system. If mediation and fact-finding fail, a resolution panel hears the case and makes a recommendation to the executive.

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