Agency lacks power to deal with union

Housing authority lawyer says state bars bargaining


March 18, 2004|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Annapolis housing authority employees are not allowed to unionize because the agency does not have the right to engage in collective bargaining, according to a legal opinion presented at a housing authority meeting yesterday.

Representatives of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Chapter 67 are trying to organize about 45 authority employees, including janitors and secretaries.

The federal agency oversees nearly 1,100 housing units in the city.

But a March 11 letter from a private attorney hired by the authority said the agency does not have the explicit authority required under state law for it to enter into binding collective bargaining agreements. Eric Paltell, a lawyer with the Baltimore-based firm of Kollman & Saucier, said that the state attorney general has twice ruled that housing authorities do not have the power to bargain with unions.

But Michael Morrill, the organizing director for the union chapter, said that other housing authorities and government groups regularly engage in voluntary collective bargaining. "I was hoping that we could have that same type of voluntary agreement," he said.

Morrill also said the housing authority had not returned phone calls, had missed deadlines and was uncommunicative. "I've never met a more rude, unresponsive organization before," he said.

Housing authority board chairwoman Trudy McFall apologized for any communications breakdowns and said that the board is preoccupied with a search for a new acting director.

Clyde Caldwell, the previous acting executive director, was dismissed in January because of clashes with the board. The head of the Housing Commission of Anne Arundel County is helping the Annapolis agency run day-to-day operations.

"Communication is one of the things that get damaged" during a search, McFall said.

Board members invited Morrill to bring legal opinions in favor of collective bargaining to their attention, but said that board members would have to depend on their attorney's advice in the meantime.

"We have to rely on what our counsel tells us," said board member Howard Pinskey.

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