County pay for chief of union is under fire

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The head of Anne Arundel County government's larges employee union spends his work time conducting union business at taxpayers' expense.

While other county union officials perform most union business on their own time or get a supervisor's permission to take the time, or the union members pay their salaries, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 582 head Marvin Redding has his $37,045 annual salary paid by the county, even though he is a full-time union head no longer doing is regular road crew duties.

"At a time when people are losing their jobs, I think you need somebody the most for protection," said Mr. Redding, who worked as a road crew chief until he assumed the presidency of the union in 1987.

The long-established practice, hardly unique to the county, is coming under fire as County Executive Robert R. Neall is proposing to eliminate 312 positions, which he expects will cost 100 workers their jobs.

"When you are looking at the prospect of laying off people," this would be a prime area to cut expenses, said Michael J. Milanowski, who until last month was the county's director of labor relations.

"The taxpayers are subsidizing union activities," said Mr. Neall, whose administration tried to stop the practice last year but was turned back at a County Council hearing.

Robert Schaeffer, president of the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association, called the county-paid union presidency an "abhorrent practice."

And a former Department of Utilities emergency dispatcher said the practice hurts union members, splitting the president's loyalties between the people who elected him and the people who sign his paycheck.

"How is he going to be in your corner 100 percent if he is being paid by management?" asked Walter Holtz, who was fired in 1988 after a dispute over working conditions and job performance. He unsuccessfully sued the county and union.

The county also provides an office for Local 582, in a building behind dirt bins at the Department of Utilities in Glen Burnie. Mr. Milanowski, who is now the personnel director for Coral City, Fla., said the space otherwise would be empty.

But the county does not pay Local 582's telephone bill, or for Mr. Redding's beeper, half-time assistant or car. Nor does it monitor his hours. Mr. Redding is not paid overtime for what he called 60-hour workweeks on union business. His salary since 1990 has been $37,045.

Until this year, Mr. Redding was among the road crew workers willing to work overtime, generally on weekends and holidays and late at night. In 1990, county records show he earned $1,683.07 for 62 hours of overtime; in 1991, $845.98 for 30 hours; in 1992, $1,222.24 for 50 hours. This year, Mr. Redding says he's been too busy with union work to do any overtime.

Mr. Redding, who represents about 830 AFSCME members, said the union president saves the county money and aggravation. He can step in to try to resolve workplace problems before they mushroom into ill will and grievance hearings, he said.

"In reality, all I do is county business," Mr. Redding said, referring to negotiating contracts, investigating and contesting demotions and firings, filing grievances, and helping employees and retirees with benefits.

"I think the accountability has to do with the person you elect to the job," Mr. Redding said. "It has nothing to do with who pays who."

Other unions have sought unsuccessfully to have the county fund a full-time president. But county officials traditionally have accommodated the police union by assigning its head to a job flexible enough to allow him to take care of union business, said Herbert Weiner, lawyer for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 70.

Paid time off for union leaders is handled in a patchwork of ways throughout the Baltimore-Washington area. Practices include small amounts of time off for negotiations and grievances, union heads whose salaries are paid by the membership, and unions and governments that split the salaries.

In Montgomery County, each member of the police and fire unions contributes three hours of vacation time a year to help pay the presidents' salaries.

In Baltimore County, chiefs of four of the five unions have their salaries paid by the county, and they concentrate exclusively on union business. That practice is "on the table," county Labor Commissioner Arthur K. Davis said.

The Anne Arundel County practice dates back to 1983, when O. James Lighthizer was county executive, although it was not written into the union contract until 1987. Time sheets in 1985 and 1986 for then-Local 582 President John F. Mangum indicate he had been released from his regular job to devote his work time strictly to union matters.

In negotiating the 1983 pact, Mr. Mangum said, "We convinced the County Council and the county executive that it was a wise thing to have."

Richard Mayer, who became the county personnel officer in 1985, said paying the union president's salary worked to forestall labor problems. "It was not an attempt to give a benefit. It was an attempt to get things done quickly and easily," said Mr. Mayer, a lawyer.

Among the four unions that deal with the county Board of Education, only the president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County is placed on leave. But the tab -- $53,000 in salary and benefits -- is picked up by the teachers union.

"The board pays absolutely nothing in costs related to me being out," TAAAC President Thomas J. Paolino said. "That way, I am responsible only to my membership. The board has no control over me, over what I say."

That freedom allows the union chief to regularly attend business and community brunches to maintain a higher profile for the union, as well as to meet with teachers and school officials.

The school system allows its other three union chiefs time off for negotiations but not for routine union business, said William H. Scott, assistant superintendent for administration. "We are not in a position to underwrite the offices or the salaries of the presidents," Mr. Scott said.

Because the teachers union has such a large membership, it costs less than $20 a member a year to fund the president's job. But the other unions have less than half the membership, which could make paying for a full-time president prohibitively expensive.

Mr. Mangum said AFSCME Local 582 members, who pay about $4 a week in dues, would not be in a position to underwrite the union president's salary.

Labor economist Paul A. Weinstein, a University of Maryland professor who has arbitrated disputes involving government workers, said a paid full-time president can become more expert in union matters.

Labor administrators in other counties who pay their union heads say the practice is efficient. Personnel administrators say they can reach the union heads quickly, and these union heads are particularly knowledgeable and savvy.

"Our experience has been that it is better to have them just run the unions," said Frank Stegman, Prince George's County's labor commissioner.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
16°