City told that it can't withhold contract because of dispute


The city has no legal basis for withholding a school cleaning contract from a Baltimore company accused of unjustly firing two employees, an independent hearing officer has concluded.

Attorney Claude Edward Hitchcock informed the city's Board of Estimates that he could not substantiate the claims of the two custodians because they did not testify at a hearing he conducted. The women say Broadway Services Inc. dismissed them for trying to help co-workers unionize.

Virginia Johnson and Valerie Bell, who have been given new jobs by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board instead of testifying at the hearing. The Solidarity Sponsoring Committee, a service workers association, argues that the board should not award Broadway Services the contract because of the women's complaints.

The Baltimore company has denied the women's charges and contends it should receive the contract to clean 15 Baltimore schools. Broadway Services is the low bidder.

Company representatives appeared before the Board of Estimates yesterday to argue that neither woman was fired. One woman quit, and the other was on a leave of absence, they said.

"We have no basis for ruling that Broadway Services has engaged in unfair labor practices," the mayor agreed.

The city shouldn't wait for a finding by the National Labor Relations Board, which could take from 18 months to five years, he added.

The Board of Estimates, which must approve all city expenditures, is expected to consider the school cleaning contract next week.

Both women complained a week ago that they were notified of Mr. Hitchcock's hearing at the last minute and would have had to hire lawyers. They said they wanted to file a federal grievance instead.

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