Rally protests pay freeze Firefighters, police demonstrate outside council luncheon

April 30, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Carrying neon green signs and waving to passing motorists, about 100 Anne Arundel County police officers and firefighters demonstrated yesterday outside an Annapolis hotel against County Executive John G. Gary's proposal to freeze salary increases and cut pension benefits.

Rank-and-file union members rallied in hopes of attracting the attention of the County Council, which was at a luncheon at Loews Annapolis Hotel on West Street with the Anne Arundel Trade Council.

"We're upset at being treated like second-class citizens," said Mark Praschack, a member of the Anne Arundel County Professional Firefighters, Local 1563, who organized the protest.

Mr. Gary has vowed that there will be no pay raises this year for the county's 3,500 employees, including police officers and firefighters.

The Republican county executive also has proposed changing the police pension system and extending the time it takes officers to reach the top of the pay scale.

Anne Arundel police officers earn roughly the same as their counterparts in Baltimore County and the city. But they make roughly $12,000 a year less than patrol officers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

A federal arbitrator ruled April 19 that the county could afford to give police a 3 percent salary increase across the board.

But the ruling is nonbinding, and the salary issue probably will be settled by the County Council.

"We're not asking for the world," said Dennis P. Howell, president of the 700-member Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 70. "We would love to sit down and come to some sort of an agreement."

Mr. Howell said the concern is that many of Anne Arundel's 488 active-duty officers will leave for other jurisdictions, such as Prince George's County, which is seeking to recruit 200 more officers by next year.

Bruce Whitlow, a six-year officer with the county's Southern District, said that if he had stayed at his position with the U.S. Capitol Police, he would be earning $7,000 more than he is now.

"It's a big concern," Mr. Whitlow said of the possible exodus of officers. "This department -- in a matter of time -- could be brought down to less than 400 officers."

Members of the firefighters' union say they feel unappreciated for the amount of work they do.

James Edwards, a 23-year firefighter at the Lothian fire station, said firefighters typically work 50-hour weeks but have not had a pay raise in five years.

"We just want fair wages for honest, hard-working citizens," Mr. Edwards said. "Faithful employees deserve to be compensated."

County firefighters and emergency medical units received a service award Saturday night from the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems -- a testament to the firefighters' service, Mr. Praschack said.

"We've dedicated our lives to the well-being of the citizens of Anne Arundel County," he said. "The service they get is 110 percent."

But Jeannette D. Wessel, CEO of the Anne Arundel Trade Council, gave Mr. Gary a vote of confidence.

"I can't say that we agree with what they [the protesters] are saying," Ms. Wessel said. "We feel that John Gary is giving us what we asked for when people voted him into office. Less government, hold down costs, hold down taxes. He's just doing what he's been asked to do."

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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