City's hiring of labor negotiator irks fire unions

January 04, 1992

When Baltimore firefighters won their contract arbitration case two years ago, it cost the city $8.5 million in wage increases -- $3.2 million more than the city said it could afford to spend. This time, the Schmoke administration is going to the table with a high-priced New York labor negotiator whom the mayor believes is needed in these economic times.

In other words, the city -- which has been without a full-time labor commissioner for more than a year -- is going to spend precious tax dollars to try and save dollars.

But the chief of Baltimore's fire union says the city may be getting more than it bargained for -- labor problems. "The type of individualand the reputation he has, if all those things are true, there are going to be problems," predicted Jeffrey A. DeLisle, president of Baltimore Fire Fighters Local 734. "I hope that's not going to be the case."

The Board of Estimates -- a panel of the city's top elected and appointed officials -- Thursday approved a nine-month, $100,000 contract for the New York firm of Hay Management Consulting to handle upcoming labor negotiations with the firefighters local and Fire Officers Local 964.

Chief negotiator for Hay is Robert Linn, whose reputation has been called into question by the city firefighters' union. Mr. Linn, who represented the city in its recent dispute with city firefighters over layoffs, worked as New York's labor director from 1983 to 1989.

"They don't have to spend that kind of money to go into a negotiation with people who work for you," said Mr. DeLisle. "It sends a bad message. They are cutting back, they won't give people raises and then they go and spend $100,000 just to bargain with us? No other city union? It's a very backhanded compliment to us."

But Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke saw it differently when he voted to approve the contract:

"1992, unless something dramatic happens in our state capital and in the nation's capital, is going to be another difficult year for us economically," he told the board. "I just feel in this year, where things certainly look like they're going to be not very easy, the city should have a man of Mr. Linn's talents as part of these negotiations."

Labor negotiations with the city's fire unions are unique because these unions are the only city labor groups whose contract proposals go to arbitration if an agreement cannot be reached in bargaining. In the last contract round, an arbitrator awarded the firefighters pay raises greater than the city claimed it could afford.

During the board's Wednesday meeting, Jesse Hoskins, the city's personnel director, who has been serving as acting labor commissioner for the past 13 months, applauded Mr. Linn's past record, saying he was "very trustworthy and a true professional."

But Mr. DeLisle presented a letter from an officer of the firefighters' national union who worked with Mr. Linn in New York. Mr. DeLisle noted that Mr. Linn himself offered the fire union officer, Vincent J. Bollon, as a reference. This is what Mr. Bollon had to say about Mr. Linn: "If the Hay contract is passed by your Board of Estimates, don't look to settle in the near future. Mr. Linn does not have that ability or desire."

But the criticism raised by Mr. Bollon did not persuade the board to reject the contract. City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, however, did object.

"I hate sending all that money out of town to negotiate with our people," she said.

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