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Union Conflict With Pr.Geo.'s Deepens

Anne Bartlett

Prince George's AFSCME unions are filing an official grievance against the county, as the conflict between the government's unions and Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) deepens.

At issue is Johnson's decision to try to close a $48 million budget shortfall in part by renegotiating pay raises included in union contracts.

Johnson has said he does not want to freeze salaries, but reduce the size of the raises as a way to avoid layoffs or furloughs.

Union officials are particularly steamed because they have been told that all raises are on hold until the issue is resolved. They said withholding increases outlined in signed agreements is a violation of their contracts.

In a July 17 letter to county employees, Chief Administrative Officer Jacqueline F. Brown indicated that all cost-of-living and merit raises are on hold while new fiscal plans are being devised.

"Our membership is outraged," said Vince Canales, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, noting that many members are especially furious about the delay in pay raises, given the recent death of Sgt. Richard S. Findley in the line of duty. "On the heels of everything that's going on, it's a slap in the face."

Wanda Shelton-Martin, a field representative for American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 67, said union members plan to attend a meeting of the County Council on Wednesday to deliver their grievance and ask for the council to intervene on behalf of workers.

Johnson spokesman James Keary said that negotiations with the unions are continuing but that pay raises must be trimmed to ensure a balanced budget. He said the county's tax revenue has dropped sharply with the dipping economy.

"There's a lot of things that have been put on hold in this fiscal year to evaluate what's happening," he said.

Keary indicated that talks will continue until at least the end of the month to try to come to terms with the unions before county officials start looking at other options, including layoffs.
And what will happen at the end of the month?

"I believe a decision will be made," he said.

By Anne Bartlett  |  July 25, 2008; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Rosalind Helderman  
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