Hayden stance over benefits irks firefighters Union cites pact OK'd for fire chiefs

April 18, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

The head of the Baltimore County firefighters union is accusing County Executive Roger B. Hayden of unfair treatment and is threatening to call a meeting of the group's 1,100 members unless the executive agrees to discuss beefing up benefits.

John Hohman, president of the Baltimore County Firefighters Association, said the county has refused to discuss the union's pension and benefits package during several weeks of negotiations.

Mr. Hohman said Mr. Hayden also has refused to let the firefighters put additional funds of their own into their pension plan.

"They have refused to discuss any benefit enhancements at all," Mr. Hohman said.

County Administrator Merreen E. Kelly said the county's fiscal constraints prevent the administration from offering the firefighters better benefits.

Mr. Hayden proposed a budget Tuesday that cuts the property tax rate 2 cents and offers no cost-of-living pay increases to any of the county's 20,000 employees.

"We just don't have the money for that," Mr. Kelly said.

But Mr. Hohman said he decided to consider the unusual step of calling a membership meeting after learning that the 37-member Fire Chiefs Association had won an agreement that will allow the chiefs to retire after 20 years of service, regardless of age, with a full 50 percent pension.

The same plan is now available to Police Department supervisors.

Mr. Hohman said that the fire chiefs' package represents the equivalent of putting an additional 2.2 percent of the chief officers' current pay into their benefits package.

"I'm glad for the chiefs, I'm glad they got the change. But somehow it doesn't seem fair to offer something to one group but not to the other," Mr. Hohman said. "If they were to say to us, 'We will give you 1 percent,' it would be something. So far, they've refused to even discuss it."

As public employees, the firefighters cannot strike, and by law, their contract automatically renews itself July 1.

The Fire Chiefs Association was the first organized employee group to endorse Mr. Hayden during last year's election campaign. According to campaign finance reports, it donated $3,900 to his campaign in the weeks before the election. The firefighters union endorsed his opponent, Dennis F. Rasmussen, and contributed to his re-election campaign.

But Mr. Kelly said politics played no part in what the fire chiefs were offered.

"That [endorsement] had nothing to do with what I discussed with the Fire Chiefs Association, absolutely nothing," Mr. Kelly said.

He added that permitting firefighters to put their own money into their pensions could one day mean added county costs, because they could request in future talks that the county cover their payments into the pension system.

Mr. Kelly said the union's plans for a meeting will not change the administration's decision to refrain from discussing benefit enhancements with them.

"At this time, it is not being considered," he said.

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