BALTIMORE COUNTY'S paid firefighters continue to nurse a grudge against Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who they feel has not rewarded them for supporting him in the last election.
Firefighters are upset because the administration -- to make police salaries comparable with other jurisdictions -- has finagled a way around parity clauses in the firefighters' union contracts and given police cost-of-living increases. This week they protested by invoking a federal labor law requiring the county to pay career firefighters who also work in volunteer units, or ban them from volunteering.
Until now, the county and the union mutually ignored the law. While union members now say they're invoking the law because it's the right thing to do, the move clearly is a job action. It forces the county to pay up, or make up the lost volunteer service. Mr. Ruppersberger has chosen to attempt the latter.
He has the right to do that, and union members have the right to demand that the law be followed. Indeed, they should have done that when it was passed 11 years ago. The law protects firefighters from being coerced into doing county work for free as volunteers. They didn't force the issue as a favor to a former county executive, Dennis Rasmussen. He had offered the desired quid pro quo -- salary increases -- after they helped elect him.
As for Mr. Ruppersberger, he has been generous with equipment and capital projects. Police have gotten more salary-wise because studies show they, unlike firefighters, are underpaid in the region. It is understandable the union is upset that the administration found a legal way around parity clauses. But the jobs of police officer, paramedic and firefighter have evolved much differently in terms of shifts, stress and workload. The days of treating them alike no longer makes much sense.
The firefighters' problem is not that they are mercenary. They crave respect more than money. Yet money is a sign of respect.
Their main problem is that they have come to expect a payback for their support. There's nothing wrong with backing candidates in hopes they will embrace a certain cause. But all the firefighters have a right to expect in exchange for support is fair, effective governance. There should be no other quid pro quo.
Pub Date: 5/22/97