Forty Anne Arundel County police officers came to a forum last night sponsored by the Teamsters union, which wants to represent the officers in contract negotiations with the county and to provide them with the "finest legal defense protection available."
The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) represents the officers now. But the Teamsters say they are promising a better legal plan that would allow the officers to choose their own lawyers. They also pledged to aggressively represent the officers in negotiations with the county.
A small cadre of officers began placing leaflets extolling the Teamsters in mailboxes three weeks ago. At last night's meeting, officers were encouraged to sign a confidential card pledging support to the union.
During last night's meeting at the Holiday Inn in Glen Burnie, the Teamsters made a point of emphasizing their legal defense protection plan, which provides "unlimited legal defense on and off duty, while moonlighting and for grand jury investigations." Their plan has no deductibles.
"As far as I can tell from looking at their plan, it is an insurance policy controlled by the Teamsters," said William T. Wild, president of the FOP, who did not attend the meeting. "Their theory is 'we will represent you, and if you need a lawyer, we will get you one but it will be a lawyer of our choosing.'"
Wild said the FOP charges $13 biweekly for its legal plan and representation during collective bargaining; the Teamsters would charge $14.50.
The FOP has a contract with the Baltimore law firm of Shalachman, Belsky and Weiner. "The firm represents almost every FOP in the state, and they have a variety of lawyers that you can pick from," Wild said.
J. William Mowery, the business agent for Teamsters Local 103 in Glen Burnie, said yesterday the Teamsters do not wish to abolish the FOP. Instead, they hope the FOP will handle "fraternal issues and we should do negotiations," he said.
A majority of the officers would have to vote in favor of the Teamsters for the union to represent them instead of the Fraternal Order of Police in contract negotiations that begin in October. In February 1997, the Teamsters fell three votes short of replacing the FOP.
The Teamsters represent between 1,400 and 1,500 workers in Anne Arundel County and stand to benefit handsomely from the dues of 649 county police officers.
The main benefit of representation by the Teamsters is their promise of full-time representation, Mowery said. Two staffers handle member problems out of the organization's Crain Highway headquarters.
"These people can walk in and say 'I got a problem,'" he said. "On the day-to-day issues, they have difficulty getting answers from the FOP."
Some officers advocating representation by the Teamsters say the FOP is cozy with police administrators. The FOP is run by officers elected to its board. The Teamsters employs Mowery and others -- none of whom are county police officers -- to negotiate labor contracts.
Last night, Mowery touted their success with negotiating contracts for the sheriff's deputies. Mowery said the Teamsters have a good working relationship with County Executive Janet S. Owens.
"I am not making any plans that the Teamsters are taking us over," said Wild. "We are certainly not going anywhere."