Police, fire unions fight layoff ax Ads, letter used in Baltimore Co.

January 19, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

With the prospect of hundreds of layoffs facing Baltimor County workers, leaders of the county's police and fire unions are scrambling to try to keep their colleagues off the layoff lists.

The two unions are employing quite different tactics.

The police union is using screaming, siren-filled radio ads about the county's rising crime rate. County Executive Roger B. Hayden has labeled the ads "scare tactics" and called them "unconscionable."

Meanwhile, Kevin B. O'Connor, president of the firefighters' union, has sent his members a letter urging them to take the offensive to protect their jobs.

"Instead of being grateful for having a job, you should be enraged that the current administration has consistently displayed a flagrant disregard for our negotiated accord," Mr. O'Connor wrote in the Dec. 31 letter.

Mr. Hayden has said he will announce 400 to 500 job cuts next month as part of his attempts to address the county's $31.7 million budget shortfall.

On Friday, Mr. O'Connor and other union leaders met with Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger, chairman of the County Council. The group is trying to influence the county's budget-cutting measures. Mr. O'Connor praised Mr. Ruppersberger's effort.

"I don't see that same level of cooperation coming from the mezzanine level," he said, referring to the floor housing the county executive's offices.

In the letter, part of which contains a heading called "Roger's 12 days of Christmas," Mr. O'Connor listed budget-cutting actions taken over the last two years, including last year's furloughs and the reduced staffing on fire engines and paramedic units.

"What has to occur to wake our membership up and spark activity?" wrote Mr. O'Connor. "The movers and shakers in government . . . feel that no matter what policy, program or cutback they institute, our people will smile and continue on without complaint. We are asking you not to smile or accept anything."

Merreen E. Kelly, county administrative officer, decried the letter.

"I interpret it as inflammatory. It raises the anxiety level of fire personnel for no reason," he said. "Does it make sense that we've had two [fire] recruit classes if we're going to lay firefighters off?"

Mr. Hayden has not said whether firefighters or police officers will be among those laid off. However, he has said repeatedly that public safety is the county government's top priority.

Fire Chief Elwood H. Banister is scheduled to meet with Mr. Hayden this week and discuss the cost-cutting measure his department may have to endure. Final decisions won't be made for several weeks.

Chief Banister, who visited county fire stations during the holiday season, said he wasn't too disturbed by Mr. O'Connor's letter.

"That's how Kevin is," he said of the union leader's confrontational style. "He merely wants to incite the troops."

Mr. O'Connor said the letter was "an informational thing," an attempt to prepare his members for possible layoffs and counterbalance what he called Chief Banister's effort "to lull people" with soothing messages.

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