Police Union Agrees To Delay Contract Talks For A Year

February 07, 1991|By Kris Antonelli and Samuel Goldreich | Kris Antonelli and Samuel Goldreich,Staff writers

Rank-and-file police officers say they will go along with the Neall administration's request to delay contract talks until January because of the county's financial problems.

The county's six employee unions have been warned that the administration would come to the bargaining table with a list of concession demands if forced to negotiate this year.

The president of Lodge 70 of the Fraternal Order of Police, Detective John Ogle, said the "overwhelming" vote by about 100 members Tuesday night demonstrates union support for County Executive Robert R. Neall's efforts to maintain services during the recession.

"Most of all, it shows support for the new county administration, and we hope in some way it will help the county executive strengthen our county's economic condition for years to come," said Ogle, whose 425-memberunion supported Neall's Democratic opponent in last year's election.

The Neall administration has asked each of the unions to extend its contract one year, until July 1992, saying that the county cannot afford pay raises for its 3,500 employees.

Personnel Director Richard Mayer offered no guarantees yesterday that bargaining conditions would improve by next year. "We don't have crystal balls, and we don't know what the future will be," he said. "We are hoping things will be better."

Mayer was far more certain of the county's bargaining position if negotiations proceed this month. He warned that budget constraints would force Neall to seek concessions on merit raises, sickleave, the number of holidays and the length of the workweek for those who put in only 35 hours.

Under those conditions, union talks could reach an impasse before the county adopts a budget for fiscal 1992, which begins July 1.

"If no new contract has been negotiated, then the administration will be in a position that it can act unilaterally," Mayer said. "We don't want to do that. We want to maintain a good union relationship."

Neall has authority to increase employees' share of the cost of health care benefits. Other changes would require County Council approval.

Budget constraints hit the Police Department yesterday, when acting Chief Robert Russell announced he wasdeferring the April academy class until after July 1. The decision kills plans to hire 24 recruits unless the county provides for them inthe 1992 budget.

The choice facing Anne Arundel unions reflects recessionary budget decisions confronting other counties in the Baltimore-Washington region.

Prince George's County has already announced 190 layoffs to cope with a $22 million deficit this year and the police union there has been told to give up a scheduled 7 percent pay raise and merit raises or see as many as 230 officers laid off.

Montgomery County teachers, firefighters, police officers and other workers have been asked to give up cost-of-living increases.

In HowardCounty, an employees' coalition is trying to drum up support for higher taxes to pay for raises despite an $18 million deficit this year.

Neall ordered an 18-month hiring freeze in December and has askeddepartment heads to submit no-growth budgets for fiscal 1992.

He is also trying to preserve a $17 million surplus projected for this year and fulfill his campaign pledge to lower the property tax rate ifrising assessments push revenue growth above 5 percent.

But Mayersaid that the surplus will disappear next year, when the operating budget is expected to climb $25 million, to $642 million.

"This is not a union-busting effort," he said. "We are not sucking the people into a situation where we are saying, 'Extend the talks and we'll still seek the take-backs.' "

Mayer warned that county unions could hurt themselves if they insist on renegotiating their contracts this year.

"If they demand a pay raise, they have to understand the consequence of that might be layoffs," he said. "We can't give a pay raise and protect jobs."

Meanwhile, negotiations proceed with the fourunions that represent more than 7,000 Board of Education employees.

The County Council can override Neall by adding to the school system's budget. But the executive has asked school board members for a no-growth budget too.

"Mr. Neall has indicated to them that the economic situation that prevails in the county pertains to them as well and they should act accordingly," Mayer said.

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