Union challenge heats up Balt. Co. workers begin voting today


A union seeking to represent Baltimore County's white-collar workers wants a court order giving it equal access to information and forbidding backers of the existing union from using paid leave to electioneer.

A long-delayed representation election was supposed to begin today, with secret ballots being mailed to about 1,600 potential union members by the private American Arbitration Association of Washington, which will count the votes Oct. 15.

Last September, the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFL-CIO), challenged the Baltimore County Classified Employees Association, Chapter 520 of the Maryland Classified Employees Association.

On Monday, the federation filed suit in Circuit Court against its rival union, Baltimore County, and three county officials in charge of labor, personnel and budget.

Mel Driban of the federation's national staff said the county has shown "blatant favoritism" and "done everything possible to prevent an election" because it wants a union that won't fight for its members.

He charged that the county allows MCEA members to take leave with pay to campaign for their union, including episodes in which electioneering was "often masked as an insurance presentation." This is not the kind of union business for which the leave is intended, he said.

The challenging union has been limited to meetings after 5 p.m., a disadvantage when most employees finish at 4:30, Mr. Driban said, and the county has refused to turn over a list of eligible voters.

County Attorney Stanley J. Schapiro said he hadn't received the new suit but noted the contract with MCEA requires the county to give it membership lists and provide members time off for union business.

"We have no contract with anyone outside" for these things, he said.

Arthur K. Davis, the county's labor commissioner and a defendant in the lawsuit, said he's been busy trying to keep supporters of both unions from lobbying county employees on taxpayers' time.

"Neither one is allowed [to have meetings] before 5," he said. "I had a phone call that AFT was at the Eastern Family Resource Center distributing literature [and another] that MCEA was using our staff to make calls to the Health Department.

"I call their representatives and ask them not to do this," he said. Even if the supporters are on their own time, he said, "I've spoken to people on both sides about calling county employees on the job.

" 'No campaigning during county office time,' I told both unions."

Thomas O. Lydon, an attorney for MCEA, said he hadn't seen the suit and couldn't comment on it. He did say of the allegations, "We don't know of any instances of wrongdoing by any of our members.

"We are as anxious as anybody for the election to take place."

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