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Teamsters recruiting Balto. Co. teachers

The Teamsters union, which is trying to organize Anne Arundel County teachers, is now attempting to recruit their Baltimore County colleagues as well.

This week, Teamsters Local 103 handed out fliers to new teachers attending an orientation at Perry Hall High School. Next week, the union will try distributing fliers to the rest of the county's 8,200 teachers, who will be returning to their classrooms to prepare for the start of school Aug. 25.

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"Baltimore County teachers have some of the same concerns that Anne Arundel teachers have," said Dan Taylor, a business agent at the local, who is leading both recruitment drives. "They're not happy with their current representation and feel it's time for a change."

Although many received step increases, most Baltimore County teachers have been upset since County Executive James T. Smith Jr. rejected in June a tentative plan to give them cost-of-living raises in exchange for higher health care contributions.

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Smith said the county couldn't afford it.

Next week, the 5,900-member Teachers Association of Baltimore County is expected to decide whether members should work to rule, picket or take another kind of job action in protest. In addition, union leaders are trying to negotiate a new contract.

"We're doing our best to represent our teachers and looking at getting competitive salary increases," said Cheryl Bost, TABCO's president.

Bost said the teachers' most recent contract, which expired at the end of the last school year, was a good one. She said teachers received 14 percent cost-of-living raises over the four years, along with step increases that could amount to as much as 2 percent a year.

Bost blamed this year's salary problems on a poor economy and a new county executive unfamiliar with the bargaining process.

She said TABCO this week signed up a third of the county's roughly 1,000 new teachers.

A group of Arundel teachers, upset by what they called a lack of leadership in the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, contacted the Teamsters in May. The union distributed leaflets to new teachers attending orientation sessions this week.

Nearing its 100th anniversary, the Teamsters, once led by Jimmy Hoffa, are known as the muscular representative of truckers. Although United Parcel Service workers are its biggest constituents, the 1.4-million member union also includes public defenders, car rental agents and educators.

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Its effort to organize local teachers, however, will be difficult. Except in Baltimore, Maryland's public school teachers are represented by affiliates of the Maryland State Teachers Association, such as TABCO.

The General Assembly has designated TABCO the sole bargaining agent for teachers in Baltimore County, which means only TABCO can negotiate on behalf of county teachers and represent them on grievances.

"We're their voice - local, state and federal," Bost said.

Taylor said the Teamsters first wanted to see if sufficient numbers of Baltimore County teachers were interested in joining and would then seek to negotiate on their behalf.

"I don't have any thoughts it would be that easy," he said.

A former TABCO vice president who is a kindergarten teacher at Deer Park Elementary School, Kenneth J. Shapiro, said he asked the Teamsters to recruit in Baltimore County.

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"TABCO has been ineffective for us," Shapiro said, pointing to what he called inadequate pay raises, higher health care costs and the scaling back of opportunities for teachers to transfer to other schools.

Those were the same reasons that Nancy Jergensen, a kindergarten teacher at Halstead Academy, said she is considering the Teamsters.

"I'm very open to looking to see if there is some other type of representation that has bargaining power," said Jergensen, who noted that higher health care costs will make her paychecks smaller this school year.

"This union," she said, referring to TABCO, "is very limited, to me."

Sun staff writer Laura Loh contributed to this article.


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