Unions seek share of pension savings

November 26, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

A Hayden administration maneuver to save $2.1 million in Baltimore County government pension contributions has drawn fire from union presidents who say that workers should get a share of the savings.

The county's eight-member retirement board of trustees decided this week to make three small changes in the calculations by which employer contributions to the fund are determined.

These decisions will start saving the county money July 1, 1994, said James R. Gibson Jr., the county finance director and pension board chairman. The board is composed mainly of county department heads.

"None of these proposals have any impact on benefits or pensions," Mr. Gibson said, adding that two of the changes are routine adjustments suggested by professional actuaries who advise the county.

One change would have three of the professional fund-managing companies take their fees from investment earnings, instead of being paid directly from the county operating budget.

The other changes would slightly reduce the forecast of investment earnings to reflect recent lower interest rates, and slightly reduce the forecast of employee salary increases to reflect the lack of general pay raises over the last several years.

Firefighters union President Kevin B. O'Connor, a member of the board, opposed the changes and complained bitterly that, while the county budget will benefit from contributing $2.1 million less to the funds, county workers won't get any direct benefit from the savings.

That criticism was echoed by Edward M. Pedrick Jr., local president of the blue-collar American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and Lt. Timothy Caslin, president of the county Fraternal Order of Police.

"They should have split that [$2.1 million] with the employees," -- Lieutenant Caslin said. "It's just a rotten deal. It just shows again that this administration doesn't care about employees."

Mr. Gibson rejected that argument. He said the county -- and not its employees -- pays more into the fund if investment earnings are down, and so the county should benefit from adjustments that save money.

Also, he said, the county pays 100 percent of the pension costs for 670 county police officers and firefighters who retired before 1959, at a cost of about $13 million last year alone.

County government and employee contributions for others are now roughly equal, he said.

He said that union leaders should bring up their complaints during contract negotiations, and he argued that they should not be part of the retirement board's decisions about funding.

Mr. O'Connor charged that Baltimore County's pension benefits are far less generous than are those of other large counties.

While Baltimore County firefighters can now retire after 25 years with 50 percent of their pay and no Social Security benefits, Prince George's County firefighters get 70 percent of their pay after 25 years, plus Social Security.

Mr. O'Connor said that a more generous pension program would pay for itself in reduced claims for accidental disability pensions, which pay 67 percent of salary, and longer service by firefighters who would be willing to wait for their regular pensions.

Mr. Gibson said that the Prince George's system is "the Cadillac of public safety workers pension systems."

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