Council rejects 6 percent pay raise for firefighters

June 21, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Despite a spirited protest by union officials, the County Council last night sided with the administration and granted pay raises to all county workers except firefighters.

County Executive Robert R. Neall canceled the 6 percent raises for firefighters because their union disputed specific changes in a new and more economical managed health care system designed to save the county millions of dollars.

"Now you have a bill before you, the justification of which is an outright lie," said Andrew Kahn, an attorney representing Local 1563 of the Anne Arundel County Professional Firefighters. "Well, we haven't rejected the health care plan. Every single [firefighter] in this room is going to be in managed health care."

The union was able to win an injunction that delayed notices describing the new system from being mailed out to county workers until federal arbitrators ruled in two grievances.

The union's first victory came May 30, when an arbitrator ruled that the county cannot charge firefighters who use a preferred-provider network more than 10 percent of its actual cost, as stated in their contract. Earlier this month, a second federal arbitrator ruled that the county cannot use premiums paid by its employees to build a reserve fund to pay for health care claims in excess of what was budgeted.

The union won both grievances, and Mr. Neall responded by introducing a bill that granted 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 for all unionized workers except firefighters.

Walter Chitwood, Mr. Neall's chief administrative officer, told the council that the administration believes the council had the last word when it implemented the new managed care plan in April after the county and six employee unions could not reach agreement.

"We believe that the matters that went to arbitration were not properly in arbitration and we will be appealing those decisions," he said.

Deputy County Attorney David Plymyer said that by disputing the two sections of the health care plan, the firefighters union in essence "tore a piece out" of the council's impasses decision. "Ultimately, the council is the judge as to whether its resolutions stick and will hold water," he said.

The council made a deal with the unions and the pay raises were to be a "quid pro quo" for that deal, Mr. Plymyer said. The union was able to cut out a part of that deal, he said, tearing a piece of paper for dramatic effect. "But it still wants the benefit out of the deal," he said.

Councilman George F. Bachman, a Linthicum Democrat, vigorously defended the union.

"Tear up the paper one more time and see what you've got. You don't have very much," he said, pointing out he believes the administration violated the union's contract. "Just because the union challenged the administration, they're being punished. That's been my feeling from the very beginning."

Mr. Kahn bitterly complained that eliminating the pay raises will cost each firefighter $2,160, and will save the county $1.2 million. But changing the cost schedule to reflect the arbitration victory will only cost the county $105 for each affected employee.

He also complained that the administration, which will pay 100 percent of the cost of health maintenance organizations for county employees, will now charge firefighters 10 percent of the cost. He warned that move would eventually cost the county more money by driving HMO members into more expensive managed care alternatives.

Ultimately, the union was not able to prevail. Council members David G. Boschert, Virginia Clagett, Diane Evans and C. Edward Middlebrooks voted in favor of the bill. Mr. Bachman, Carl G. "Dutch" Holland and Maureen Lamb abstained.

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