Larson reassures teachers union that he supports its work

Townsend's running mate vows to help group's effort in bargaining rights

August 01, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

SALISBURY - Seeking to assuage concerns about his Republican roots, retired Adm. Charles R. Larson reassured one of the Democratic Party's staunchest support groups yesterday that he strongly backs the work of Maryland's teachers union.

Larson - who was named Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's running mate three weeks after quietly switching political parties - also vowed to help the Maryland State Teachers Association's effort to enforce a new law giving cafeteria workers, janitors and classroom aides on the Eastern Shore the right to bargain with local school boards.

"I also believe that it is absolutely unacceptable - let me repeat that word, unacceptable - for any employee contemplating joining a union to be intimidated or threatened in any way," Larson told a rally of the MSTA leadership on the Salisbury University campus.

Larson's comments appeared to remove most doubts among MSTA leaders about whether his military background would be in conflict with traditional Democratic support of labor unions.

"We know the record of the team over the past eight years, and she was in that Glendening-Townsend team," said MSTA president Patricia A. Foerster. "It's clear Admiral Larson is concerned about our issues and will listen to us, just like Kathleen."

Representing more than 56,000 teachers and other school system employees, the MSTA has been considered crucial for its early and enthusiastic support of Gov. Parris N. Glendening in the past two elections.

The MSTA - representing the teachers in every school system in Maryland except Baltimore - has been rewarded handsomely over Glendening's two terms for its loyalty, including state-supported 5 percent pay raises for two years and legislation expanding the rights of unions in negotiations with local school boards.

The union had endorsed Townsend's candidacy, but yesterday was the first time Larson spoke to them, joining a rally celebrating the new law with the president-elect of the National Education Association, Reg Weaver.

In his remarks to more than 125 MSTA leaders, Larson spoke of successfully protecting the jobs of government workers from privatization during his two terms as head of the Naval Academy.

Unions have strongly opposed privatization of government jobs.

"When I was a junior officer, I said to my men, `The armed forces are not unionized, but I am your union leader and I will listen to you,'" Larson said.

Local union leaders - including some who had been skeptical about Larson's Democratic credentials - responded enthusiastically. "I think there were some questions, but he handled it very well and showed that he can relate to our issues," said Celeste Williams of the Prince George's County Educators' Association.

One decision that Larson did not talk about during the rally was his abstention from a vote by the University System of Maryland Board of Regents on whether to support extending collective bargaining rights to university employees.

In an interview yesterday, he said his abstention was not because he objected to collective bargaining, but because he felt the board was being rushed into a vote without time to study the costs or talk to university presidents and employees.

After a majority of the board voted to back the collective bargaining expansion, Larson proposed a second vote to make the board's position unanimous.

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