Baltimore Co. negotiates raises with key unions

April 14, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore County has quietly negotiated pay raises of at least 3 percent with key unions -- their first increase in three years -- as County Executive Roger B. Hayden prepares to announce an election-year budget that is not expected to call for tax increases.

Officials would not discuss figures before today's budget presentation to the County Council, but the signs are unmistakable that this year's news will be relatively good after years of frozen salaries, layoffs and cuts in county services.

Firefighters, police and blue-collar workers already have reached tentative contract agreements with the Hayden administration -- unusually early settlements. Last year, police refused to sign a contract, and negotiations with firefighters weren't concluded until fall.

"This is the first time we've had a tentative agreement before the budget message came out," said Edward M. Pedrick Jr., president of blue-collar Local 921, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. "I've told my people that we negotiated 3 percent [pay increases], but if extra monies come up, we would appreciate it."

Lt. L. Timothy Caslin, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, agreed, saying, "It's unusual for the county to deal with us before the budget message."

Although the police union has been openly critical of Mr. Hayden's stewardship and is courting several Democratic opponents in this year's election, the deal with the firefighters is the most unusual of the three.

Firefighters Local 1311 was former County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen's staunchest backer among the county unions, and its president, Kevin B. O'Connor, has been the harshest critic of Mr. Hayden's budget cuts. Mr. Hayden upset Mr. Rasmussen in 1990.

Yet the firefighters seem to be the big winners this year. In addition to a raise, they'll get the right to retire after 25 years of service regardless of age -- although part of their raise will go to offset increased pension costs. Currently, firefighters must be at least 50 to get a pension. Because many begin their careers at 18 or 20, the change is significant. Mr. O'Connor said the agreement also will restore full crews to some engines, which he said will increase safety.

"It's a welcome change," he said of this year's negotiations. "The whole tone was different from day one. I'm just delighted."

The administration seemed so eager to forge agreements with the unions this year that Mr. Caslin, the FOP president, said he's wondering if he was fooled.

"We were surprised," he said. "Last year they didn't want to bend on anything."

In addition to the salary increase, he said, police got some minor concessions, including longevity pay increases in an officer's 19th year rather than his 20th, which will boost pensions for those retiring after 20 years of service.

Also, life insurance benefits equal to twice an officer's annual pay would remain intact after retirement, instead of dropping to $20,000 after four years. The county pays 80 percent of the premiums for those policies.

County teachers negotiated a contract with the school board that calls for raises of about 6 percent. But the county executive and council -- who have the authority to appropriate the money -- are considered likely to limit teachers' raises to the same percentage as other county employees.

There are 19,000 county employees, of which 13,000 work for the school board.

Derek Propalis, the newly elected president of the county's white-collar Federation of Public Employees, appeared to be the only labor leader who has been unable to reach an agreement. He said the county walked out of talks with his group last week.

"We're waiting for the budget message," he said. "I don't think we could sell 3 percent."

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