A Circuit Court judge has ruled that Baltimore County was within its rights to furlough police for five days without pay last year even though the furloughs violated the police union's contract with the county.
The decision serves notice on all county labor groups that any collective bargaining contract can be breached unless the County Council approves it.
Although the council did appropriate money to pay the police, the council never approved the police contract, thus making the agreement subservient to the county charter, Judge John F. Fader ruled. The charter allows the county to cut budgets when needed, he said.
Jeffrey L. Gibbs, the police union attorney, said he hopes to appeal the ruling directly to the state's highest court, bypassing the intermediate Court of Special Appeals.
At a hearing yesterday, Judge Fader said his decision was difficult, with "an unbelievable, trying, emotional consequence," because the police signed an agreement in good faith, and the county violated it.
He decided, however, that "because the County Council . . . did not authorize the executive to approve a 'no furlough' provision in the police contract, the county charter prevails over the contract when it allows expenses to be cut.
The judge said he was limiting his decision to determining the strength of the police contract compared to the county charter and was not ruling on the underlying ethical issues of violating a contract. "If you want social engineering," Judge Fader told opposing attorneys, "you are going to have to go down to 361 Rowe Boulevard [the Maryland Court of Appeals) to get it."
Mr. Gibbs said he argued that if the police contract can be discarded by the county in this case, then the county can't be held to any contract. Judge Fader disagreed, however, ruling that the provision doesn't apply to all contracts.
'A big disappointment'
"It's a big disappointment," police union leader Lt. L. Timothy Caslin said of the decision. "It's certainly not going to help morale."
"It's something that we expected," said County Executive Roger B. Hayden said. "We felt the arbitrator was wrong, and our feeling was upheld."
Despite its protestations about scarce money, Mr. Gibbs noted, the county ended its 1992 fiscal year with a $4.9 million surplus.
At issue in the police case is some $1.2 million in pay withheld from 1,418 county police officers during the height of the county's budget crisis in 1992.
County Executive Roger B. Hayden ordered a five-day work furlough for all county employees to make up $12.5 million of a projected budget deficit caused by state budget cuts and ultimately, by the recession. The furlough cost a starting patrolman about $460 and a lieutenant about $1,000.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4 had a contract with county government that included a provision prohibiting layoffs. An arbitrator ruled in September 1992 that the furloughs violated that agreement.