County workers seek pay equity

Hefty raise for police stirs other unions to seek similar deals

March 10, 2000|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Now that they've offered Anne Arundel County police a significant pay raise, county negotiators can expect to hear a chorus of "me too" in the continuing talks with unions representing more than 2,000 other county employees.

Officials bargaining for the county's firefighters and police sergeants have said they are looking for equal treatment in their coming labor deals.

"The police were severely underpaid. The county recognized that and made a major improvement in their salary and benefits," said Jim Edwards, president of the Anne Arundel County Professional Firefighters Local 1583, which represents about 470 firefighters. "We feel that, as the other half of public safety, we deserve equal pay and equal benefits."

Anne Arundel County Sergeants Association, a separate unit representing 73 police sergeants, has similar hopes for its meeting today with county negotiators.

"I'm hoping we can get a tentative agreement to bring to our membership that will integrate the sergeants' pay into the patrol officers' scale," said Sgt. Bret Ballam, association president. "Already, in Anne Arundel County, we have sergeants earning less than some of the officers they supervise."

This week, the county offered police officers a pay raise of about 17 percent over the next three years -- the largest salary increase for police in decades -- according to officials at the local Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the 520 officers.

On Tuesday, FOP members voted 283 to 19 to accept the contract, which provides a 7 percent increase the first year and 5 percent increases the next two years.

Because the FOP contract is the first deal the county has made, Randy Schultz, the county personnel officer, acknowledged, "It certainly makes settling the other six contracts exponentially more difficult."

In addition to the firefighters and police sergeants, county officials are negotiating with four other unions representing nearly 400 clerical workers, 800 maintenance workers and equipment operators, 220 corrections officers and personnel, and 50 deputy sheriffs. All employees can expect a raise, Schultz said. But, he said, the increases will not all be the same.

Minimal raise last year

Last year, county employees all received a 3 percent salary increase. But this year, police and firefighters have said, County Executive Janet S. Owens promised them that new contracts would correct salary disparities between Anne Arundel public safety officers and those in nearby counties.

By the time the FOP vote was made public Wednesday, a group of firefighters was waiting in Owens' office to remind her of the commitment.

Owens spokesman, Andrew C. Carpenter, described the meeting as "productive" and said, "During that meeting, the county executive expressed her sympathy with the firefighters' feelings and her support for their needs. At the conclusion of that meeting, Owens expressed her desire for the county to do its very best for the firefighters."

Operative words missing

But the operative words such as "this year" and "17 percent pay raises" are noticeably missing from county officials' statements.

"What we are attempting to do and what the county executive has committed to is to address the individual needs of each bargaining unit within the financial resources to do so," Schultz said.

The FOP contract has given firefighters and police sergeants hope.

"I'm optimistic," Ballam said. The FOP contract "is certainly a step in the right direction."

Should the county not meet expectations, several unions officials have said they are prepared to pressure the administration by making their causes public. The Sergeants Association has a television ad ready to air and a radio spot in production, Ballam said.

Appeals for better wages -- especially for public safety workers and teachers -- are generally well-received by the public, union negotiators said.

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