There's little joy in local labor camps this year. From Baltimore City to the District of Columbia and virtually all points in-between, unions are being given the unpalatable choice of foregoing pay raises or putting members on the street.
In Prince George's County, an unhappy batch of police recruits graduating in April have been told they will likely lose their jobs in July -- unless the county makes major cuts in other areas of the police budget. Other in this case means a scheduled 7 percent pay raise and merit raises. County officials have told the police union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, to choose between increases and the jobs of as many as 230 officers.
"You can't have 10 percent pay raises and no firings and still end up with a $70 million cut," said County Executive Parris N. Glendening who faces a $72.3 million revenue shortfall. "We're asking all employees across the board to make sacrifices."
Organized government workers elsewhere are facing similar choices. In Montgomery County, teachers, firefighters, police and other workers have been asked to forgo cost-of-living increases. Howard County employees are trying to drum up support for higher taxes to avoid a similar conundrum and Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon is trying to convince city workers to give up $63 million in pay raises.
In Prince George's, which has already announced 190 layoffs, the threat is real. Since November, the county's deficit has ballooned by $22 million. Even with furloughs, officials say new taxes are needed to mitigate a shortfall they blame on the recession.
So far at least, the police union isn't buying it. FOP president Darryl A Jones Sr. said union members don't want to accept a pay cut. He notes the department has already taken a hit with the loss of 175 new officers. Police officials say any layoffs will set back plans for community-oriented programs and reaching affirmative action goals.
Some members of the county council, which last year increased apartment licensing fees, raised the hotel-motel tax and increased the transfer tax for the purpose of paying for new officers, say they feel betrayed by layoffs. Council member Sue V. Mills acknowledges the need to cut expenses, but that "we never should have told the public that we were going to raise taxes so we could hire new police officers and then not do it."
The layoff/pay-raise question is a recurring theme throughout the region, but many people are missing a painfully obvious point: The region is mired in a recession of uncertain severity and duration. Ways must be found to bring government expenses back into line with declining revenues. That's why Maryland's state and local governments have balanced-budget mandates.