Pay raise for police provokes anger Ruppersberger likely to face picketing by other unions

April 13, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III has agreed to give pay raises to nearly the entire police force, angering two unions whose members are not faring nearly as well in his budget. The disgruntled unions, the firefighters union and the Federation of Public Employees, plan to picket the Towson courthouse Monday while Mr. Ruppersberger is presenting his second annual budget to the County Council -- his first major break with employee groups that all backed him in his 1994 campaign against former Executive Roger B. Hayden.

Mr. Ruppersberger says the uneven increases are intended to make the salaries of police and other selected employees comparable to those of other area governments. The salaries of other groups are not behind those elsewhere, he said.

"If I had the money, I'd love to give everybody raises," he said. The union reactions appear to correspond roughly to how each group's members will make out financially. The angriest -- the 1,100-member firefighters union and the 1,600-member. white-collar Federation of Public Employees -- are those getting the least.

Most happy are about 1,500 Police Department employees, while 7,000 teachers, 750 blue-collar workers and 98 public health nurses are in the middle, expecting limited raises for some.

"This thing with the police is just so unfair," said James L. "Jim" Clark, president of the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees. "I see Dutch as just a carbon copy of Roger Hayden. We're no better off now than we were then," he said.

About 300 of his union's 1,600 members are due for raises.

The firefighters union president, Kevin B. O'Connor, agreed that the police pay increase was the "catalyst" that prompted him to call for picketing, but he charged that the Fire Department has gotten short shrift for years.

"The [fire] department can no longer be held together by Band-aid," said Mr. O'Connor, none of whose members will get a raise.

Mr. Ruppersberger insisted that he is supporting the department well, but said county firefighters are not getting raises because they are not behind other area departments. In fact, they work fewer hours, said labor commissioner and county spokesman Michael H. Davis.

While Mr. Clark charged that the police are reaping a political reward for being first to endorse the executive in his 1994 campaign, Mr. Ruppersberger stoutly denied it.

"We looked at the police because they were the lowest-paid [in the area]," he said. "This had nothing to do with politics. If it was, then why wouldn't I give the firefighters raises, too?"

Police officers are to get about $2.1 million of the roughly $7.5 million allocated for pay raises in the budget Mr. Ruppersberger will present to the council. Teachers will get $4.5 million and several hundred low-paid blue- and white-collar workers will get $800,000.

A cost-of-living raise for all the county's 19,000 workers would cost $7.5 million for each 1 percent increase, budget director Fred Homan said.

If he wanted to do what was politically expedient, Mr. Ruppersberger said, "I could have given 1 percent to everyone."

The 4 percent increases for police officers of the rank of lieutenant and below -- and 4.5 percent more next year -- will come in the form of a reclassification of jobs -- not as a cost-of-living increase.

A new pay category of patrolman first class is being created for officers with at least four years' experience who pass a noncompetitive test that has yet to be devised.

Pub Date: 4/13/96

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