County police have settled on a three-year contract that would allow officers with 20 years of service in the department to retire without financial penalty.
The agreement, which was reached last week and put to a vote on Tuesday, came as a victory for the 470-member union. The retirement package puts the department in line with others in the Baltimore-Washington area.
"An overwhelming majority of officers voted for it," said Dennis Howell, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Howell said the contract was heavily endorsed by police Chief Robert Russell, who helped push the deal through during 11th-hour discussions with County Executive Robert R. Neall and other administrators who had opposed removing the early retirement penalty.
"Certainly the FOP would thank Chief Russell and Deputy Chief [Robert] Beck for helping to get us a contract with terms we can live with," Howell said.
The contract goes into effect July 1.
Under earlier contracts, officers with 20 years of experience who retired before age 50 would be penalized 2.5 percent of their pension annually.
While the new contract eliminates the penalty, it increases officers' contributions to the pension fund from 5 percent to 6 percent of their salary, county Personnel Director Mike Milanowski said. Police officers do not pay Social Security tax.
"The 20-and-out was the single economic issue in the contract," he said. The three-year contract, he added, includes a clause that would allow the officers' contribution to go up or down during fiscal years 1994 and 1995.
The settlement was reached only a day before police union officials were scheduled to go before the County Council for an impasse hearing. The council has the final say when unions and the county administration can't agree on a contract.
Howell said he believes the union had won support from the council for the retirement package. Earlier this month, the union staged a media campaign that had officers passing out fliers at malls and included full-page newspaper ads.
"The ads were very effective," Howell said. "We had a lot of response from [people] who offered to help us, and many people called the council chambers."
The county has settled with four of the six unions that represent county workers, including those for the sheriff's and fire departments. Impasse hearings on the remaining two blue-collar unions were held yesterday.