Firefighters' union likely to fight arbitration ruling Circuit judge rejects bid for binding contract talks

December 29, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County firefighters union is expected to appeal a Circuit judge's decision Friday that rejected its bid for binding arbitration in contract talks.

Andrew H. Kahn, lawyer for Local 1563 of Anne Arundel County Professional Firefighters, said he will ask the Court of Special Appeals to reverse Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth's denial of the request to order the county to arbitration.

Rushworth ruled Friday afternoon that the county is not required to arbitrate its dispute with the firefighters and that the current union contract has the force of law because it was approved by a County Council vote May 30.

"The court doesn't have any doubt on this issue," the judge told Kahn after an hourlong hearing.

Kahn had argued that the previous contract included an "evergreen clause" specifying that it was valid until a new contract was ratified. He said the union's 550 members never ratified the new pact, which has been enforced by the county since spring.

"Upon failure to ratify a new contract, the old contract is to continue," Kahn said.

LeRoy A. Wilkison, president of the union, said the new contract was unanimously rejected in membership meetings in June because of concerns about the pension package and the county's removal of 100 captains and lieutenants from the union membership.

The firefighters filed suit Sept. 16 in Circuit Court seeking an arbitration order.

Kahn argued that Maryland law required the continuation of the previous contract, including a clause that an arbitrator be brought in to resolve "disputes that arise out of the employment relationship."

"This dispute clearly arises out of the employment relationship," Kahn told Rushworth.

But Assistant County Attorney Diane Swint Levin said the firefighters were trying to enforce provisions of an agreement that was nullified by the county's approval of a new pact.

She said that contract negotiations with firefighters had been submitted to arbitration once before the County Council's May 30 vote, and that county law requires the firefighters to adhere to the contract once it is approved by the County Council.

"The question before the court is, does that previous contract still exist. I think the answer is no," she said.

Pub Date: 12/29/96

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