Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, angry that firefighters are fighting changes to their health care package, wants to rescind their 6 percent pay raise.
Mr. Neall yesterday sent a bill to the County Council that would cancel a 2 percent raise that began April 21 and an additional 4 percent raise that is set to begin with the new fiscal year's first paycheck on July 14. The bill is to be introduced at Monday night's meeting.
The move outraged firefighters union President LeRoy Wilkison, who said it was "difficult to articulate an appropriate response because I'm so angry."
"We'll be consulting with our counsel to make the appropriate response," he said.
Six of the county's employee unions fought changes to their health care benefits, which would encourage them to use a health maintenance organization or a managed care network of doctors who will provide services to county employees at a lower cost. The network reduced the number of physicians they had to choose from and increased costs for using a doctor outside the network. Mr. Neall has said that the new health care system is needed to slow down rising health care costs.
The unions took their grievances to ahearing with the County Council in April and the council sided with Mr. Neall.
But the firefighters union, which believes the county broke two provisions of its contract in implementing the new system, took its grievances to a federal arbitrator. Earlier this week, the arbitrator sided with the union on one issue -- that the health care package violates the firefighters' contract because it could require employees to pay more than 10 percent of the premiums.
Employees' costs would rise above 10 percent in a preferred provider network, which offers a larger pool of doctors than the more economical point of service network.
In a letter sent yesterday to council Chairman C. Edward Middlebrooks, Mr. Neall said that because the firefighters are not participating in the new health care program, they are not saving the county money. Therefore, they are not entitled to their raises, the letter said.
"Due to the fact that the grievance issues currently pending with the International Association of Fire Fighters have delayed the implementation of the new health care plan for those employees . . . we feel it is necessary to adjust their salary schedule to the levels in effect prior to the passage of that resolution," Mr. Neall said.
Myron Wotring, Mr. Neall's legislative liaison, said the pay raises were always understood as a "quid pro quo" for participating in the new health care benefits program.
"You've got to play to win," Mr. Wotring said. "It was understood from the beginning if they accept the new insurance plan, the pay increase would follow."
County officials said they expect to pay $1.5 million less for employee health insurance in the fiscal year that begins July 1, and will recoup $4.3 million in savings in the 1996 fiscal year and $8.4 million in savings by 1997.
Mr. Wilkison said Mr. Neall is retaliating against the firefighters simply for exercising their rights under the binding arbitration process.
"The employees in the county just have no rights. The administration feels they have no rights. They've demonstrated that time and time again," Mr. Wilkison said. "It's apparent the county is going to do everything it can to take our union to task and do everything they can to run us out of business financially. It's a sad state of affairs in Anne Arundel County."
The firefighters union obtained an injunction three weeks ago that prevented the county from officially notifying employees about the new health care plan until the grievances are resolved, a move that threatens efforts to implement it by July 1.