In what is being called a historic move to unite state correctional officers, two of the nation's biggest labor unions announced yesterday the formation of a coalition to represent prison workers, juvenile justice officers, and parole and probation employees.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters joined the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to represent prison workers in collective bargaining agreements with the state, according to Joe Lawrence, spokesman for the coalition.
The new coalition -- dubbed the United Corrections and Public Safety Employees of Maryland -- was spurred by Gov. Parris N. Glendening's decision to grant limited collective-bargaining rights to state employee unions in May, Lawrence said.
United Corrections will offer union representation to about 7,800 workers in the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which is dominated by more than 5,300 correctional officers. About 550 parole and probation officers, 200 juvenile justice counselors and a smattering of several dozen other classifications of workers -- from prison cooks to corrections case management specialists -- will be included.
State police officers will not be included, Lawrence said.
Correctional officers have long complained that overcrowded and unsanitary prisons have endangered them on the job. With the help of the coalition, they plan to call for increased air circulation, modernized facilities and a more manageable prisoner-to-worker ratio, corrections workers said in interviews yesterday.
"This agreement is the best thing they could have done," said Lisa Nichols, a corrections officer at the Baltimore City Correctional Center and a member of the Teamsters. She said her respiratory allergies flare up each day at work because of poor ventilation. "I work in a very stressful environment. We just want to be happy and be treated like human beings."
A spokeswoman from the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services declined to comment.
The governor's limited collective-bargaining agreement permits groups of state workers to elect a union to bargain for them and requires managers to discuss wages, hours and working conditions with them. Any agreement they reached would not be binding on the governor or the legislature, and the order contains no provision to resolve disputes between labor and management. The order also forbids state employees from striking.
In an election, state correctional workers will select one of three competing entities -- United Corrections, the Maryland Classified Employees Association and the Maryland Correctional Union -- to be their bargaining representative with the state.
To qualify for an election, a union must get at least 30 percent of workers to sign authorization cards. An election is then held within 90 days after the cards are submitted. The union that wins a majority of votes becomes the workers' sole representative during collective bargaining with the state. Competition among the unions to sign correctional workers has grown heated in recent years, and United Corrections was formed to minimize such in-fighting, according to Michael Marette, spokesman for AFSCME and United Corrections.
However, because United Corrections is not a new union but merely a coalition of existing unions, critics argue that members will still be forced to choose one union -- the Teamsters or AFSCME. "I don't think this is going to work out very well," said Herbert Berry Jr. from the Maryland Correctional Union. "How are they going to break it down and negotiate? You can only have one [bargaining representative] out there."
Pub Date: 8/13/96