Howard County police officers, frustrated by the lack of progress in salary negotiations, may work without a contract, union president Officer Dale Hill said this week.
Hill said the union and the county are about $63,000 apart and have been at an impasse for about three weeks.
"We're not talking about a lot of money," Hill said. "You've got to take care of employees or lose them."
Unless the administration comes to terms soon, the union will probably work the next fiscal year without a contract, Hill said. Without a contract, officers would be paid at their current rate.
"Morale is low, but you won't see a decrease in service to the public -- nothing critical to public safety will be lost," Hill said. On the other hand, he implied that paper work may pile up. "You don't know how officers will respond and think about that."
The union represents 216 of the county's 272 officers.
What the union wants -- and what the union's fact-finder says is just -- is for police raises to become effective July 1, Hill said.
County Executive Charles I. Ecker wants police raises to be identical to those he has proposed for non-school system employees. Those raises are for satisfactory employees who are not being paid top scale. The raises would take effect on the anniversary of each worker's employment. Everyone would receive an increase of at least $400.
Ecker also proposed restoring bonuses to workers with 12 or more years of service. Those with 12 to 15 years of service would receive a $1,000 bonus and those with 16 or more would receive a $2,000 bonus.
The union rejected Ecker's initial offer by a 131-8 vote three weeks ago. The offer was identical to what is now being proposed, except that it did not include the $400 minimum raise.
A number of officers have not had a pay increase for almost two years, said Seymour Strongin, mediator and fact-finder for Local 86 of the International Union of Police Association. Unless raises are tied to the first day of the fiscal year, officers with winter anniversary dates would have to wait still longer to get a raise, Strongin said.
It is only the timing of the raise, not the amount, that separates the union and the county from reaching agreement, Hill said. He said the union agreed to a 2.5 percent increase -- the increase is usually 5 percent -- "with the greatest reluctance."
If the raises began July 1, the extra cost to the county would be $63,000 -- about one-tenth of a cent on the property tax rate, Hill said.
"This county wants to treat everybody equally," Hill said, "But
four [union bargaining] units have to act separately. We have some items in common, but pay issues should not be the same for everybody. That's not bargaining, that's take it or leave it."
County Executive Charles I. Ecker tends to agree.
"In normal times, every union is different," he said. "COLAs -- cost of living adjustments or what I call labor market adjustments -- can be related to supply and demand and can vary from union to union."
What cannot vary, Ecker said, are contracts that give employees incremental raises for satisfactory performance each year until they reach the top of their job classification. All employees receiving incremental raises ought to be treated the same, Ecker said.
Ecker said he hoped morale would be getting better, although it is hard for him to judge.
"They've taken a tremendous hit the last couple of years," he said.
The 2.5 percent raises he proposed for fiscal 1993 are incremental raises paid on the anniversary of a worker's employment.
Like the rest of the county's non-school system employees, police officers not only went without raises last year but also took a 2 percent pay cut because of a five-day unpaid furlough.