Two of Baltimore's largest municipal employee unions have broken off contract negotiations with the city, saying the pay raises being offered are too meager to even talk about.
Although contracts expire at the end of this month, the move is largely symbolic because strikes by municipal employee unions are illegal.
Instead of portending any future strike or job action, the moves by the 8,500-member Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU) two weeks ago and the 7,000-member City Union of Baltimore (CUB) Monday are efforts to gain attention they hope will force the city to increase its contract offer.
"We are interested in a decent raise because it has been almost three years since we had any raise at all," Chester D. Wilton, secretary-treasurer of CUB said yesterday.
CUB members, whom Mr. Wilton said earn an average of $15,000 a year, have been offered a 1 percent pay increase. The union said it wants at least 3.5 percent.
BTU said the city has offered the 6,700 teachers in the group a one-year contract with a 2 percent raise. BTU President Irene B. Dandridge said the increase is insufficient and will do nothing to stem the flow of teachers from Baltimore to better-paying suburban school systems.
"The loss of teachers to the county is a major problem," Ms. Dandridge said. "Beginning teachers whom we train waltz off to the county because they can make $3,000 to $5,000 more. And the city doesn't seem to recognize the problem."
She estimated that 5 percent of new teachers in Baltimore eventually leave for better-paying teaching jobs in neighboring jurisdictions.
Currently, Baltimore offers beginning teachers $22,162, the lowest starting salary in the metropolitan area. The highest pay goes to beginning teachers in Howard County, who earn $25,550.
The disparity grows through the years. After 11 years, a teacher with a master's degree earns $30,088 in Baltimore, again the lowest in the region. In Howard, a teacher with identical credentials earns $38,031.
Also, every school system in the region, with the exception of Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, has negotiated 3 percent pay raises for next year.
"The city keeps coming to us with some ridiculous amounts that don't even begin to bring us where we want to go," Ms. Dandridge said.
The 1,800 paraprofessionals and other school personnel represented by BTU have been offered 1 percent raises.
"The money is there to pay more," Ms. Dandridge said. "It is just a matter of setting priorities. You know the money is there."
However, after more than two years of watching the city budget buffeted by cuts in state aid and declining tax revenues, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says otherwise.
"I don't think that anyone would argue that one of the mayor's top priorities is education and that he understands that city employees have not had cost-of-living raises in two years," said Clinton R. Coleman, Mr. Schmoke's press secretary. "But the mayor also has to consider the fiscal condition of the city."
Earlier this year, the city's firefighters ratified a contract calling for raises averaging just over 2 percent. At the time, Mr. Schmoke said other unions -- which still are negotiating -- should expect increases that would be in that range or less.