- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2001

Skilled workers at the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission have turned to the U.S. Department of Justice and an independent union to help rid them of an AFL-CIO affiliate they say has neglected members and refused to account for spending of their dues.
Their complaint to the Justice Department charges that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2898 (AFSCME) denied workers legitimate elections, financial reports and access to audit statements.
Workers, mechanics and pipefitters among them also say AFSCME has failed to file and handle job-related grievances on time and to fulfill its responsibilities in negotiating for salaries and benefits.
They have asked the Maryland Classified Employees Association to form a new chapter at the utility, which supplies water and sewer services to the majority of homes and businesses in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
About 280 WSSC employees signed the petition to oust the union. And two of its local officers former Vice President Thomas Kelly and former Secretary-Treasurer Paul Linton resigned this spring, citing disagreements with union officials and personal frustration in their efforts to ensure fair representation of fellow employees.
In a March resignation letter to local AFSCME President John D. Swann, Mr. Linton said he had received no bank statements, despite repeated requests stretching back to last November.
Last month, Mr. Swann charged two WSSC employees who had circulated petitions seeking to decertify AFSCME with violating the union constitution by assisting a competing organization and "urging others to institute actions outside the union without first exhausting all internal remedies."
The attorney for the two employees, mechanics Joseph T. Diggs and James Cudmore, said she cannot imagine what else her clients could have done in the face of the union's "egregious" disregard for accountability to members.
"AFSCME is merely trying to squelch their rights to freedom of speech and association" that are protected by the U.S. Constitution and AFSCME's own members' bill of rights, Suzanne Levin said.
The tussle over union representation has political overtones.
MCEA President Ruth Ann Ogle said her organization has a 65-year history as a member-run organization, and "members are the ones who make the decisions" without any competing considerations or regard for outside politics.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and AFSCME President Gerald McEntee have close political ties to Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, and have frequently appeared as his guests at political and policy events.
Mr. Glendening won collective-bargaining rights for state employees in 1999, and AFSCME, in negotiations with the Glendening administration, won that contract.
MCEA endorsed Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey in her 1998 gubernatorial bid against Mr. Glendening.
Miss Ogle said there's a "pattern" at the WSSC of employee grievances being filed but "never coming to any resolution."
C.J. Ross, administrator of the state AFSCME council, said that dozens of employees who signed the petition had contacted AFSCME to say they didn't know the petition's purpose was to decertify the union. The council has forwarded the names of those people to the WSSC and is also disputing whether the petition was filed properly.
If an arbitrator decides the petition is valid, WSSC workers will hold new elections to select a union.

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