Labor negotiations between the county and three of its six unions are at a standstill in what is becoming an especially bitter season of contract talks.
About a week after talks with the county firefighters' union ground to a halt, an impasse was declared yesterday with locals 2563 and 582 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said Michael Milanowski, the county's director of labor relations.
Central to the disagreement with the two AFSCME units, he said, is the issue of privatization, a potential cost-saving measure advocated by County Executive Robert R. Neall. Neall has been saying for months that he wants to explore opportunities to cut costs by contracting out to private firms work now performed by county workers.
Aloneamong the six unions, Local 582, representing 900 blue-collar workers, and Local 2563, with 370 clerical and technical employees, currently are protected by contract language allowing privatization only as a supplement to the regular county work force. A task cannot be contracted out if, as a result, a county worker would lose his job.
Thecounty wants the AFSCME unions to give up that protection, Milanowski said.
"In our opinion, if we find something cheaper through privatization, this precludes us from being able to do it," he said. "We're going to have an impossible time settling it, because we think it's a violation of the citizens' trust" not to pursue money-saving alternatives.
Union leaders could not be reached to comment yesterday.But a flier distributed by Local 2563 makes it clear how hotly the union opposes the county's proposal.
"Because you were loyal and agreed to a pay cut (last year), Bob Neall has a gift for you," the front page of the flier says. Inside, a picture of a huge screw is captioned, "Anne Arundel County's way of saying 'Thanks.' "
The flier says Neall will "carry out his promise to abolish hundreds of county jobs and hire a private company to do our work" -- a statement Milanowski dismissed as "highly inflated rhetoric."
An arbitrator will becalled in to mediate the county's dealings with the AFSCME units. After receiving the arbitrator's report, either side may ask for a hearing before the County Council during budget sessions in May.
An arbitrator also will hear arguments from the county and Anne Arundel County Professional Firefighters Local 1563, with 549 members, on April22. Talks with the firefighters broke down over money issues, Milanowski said.