City is disrupting labor practices that have worked for...


March 16, 2000

City is disrupting labor practices that have worked for years

Gerald Shields' article "Firefighter contract talks stall" (March 2) only conveys an infinitesimal part of a disturbing picture.

In any negotiation, management and employee representatives differ on financial and other issues. In this case, the dispute is much deeper.

In 1979, Baltimore's voters overwhelmingly approved a measure authorizing disputed contractual issues to be submitted to neutral third party arbitration.

The system has worked well for more than 20 years as three mayoral administrations honored the arbitration process.

Over the years six disputes have gone to arbitration and the city's position has prevailed in every instance but one. The two city fire unions have accepted the adverse decisions and continued to provide vital services to the citizens of Baltimore.

But after 20 years of positive labor relations, the new city administration wants to change the rules. The city is attacking the process of arbitration.

Through the city solicitor's office, Mayor Martin O'Malley is contending that the topics of pay parity with police officers and promotional issues cannot be arbitrated. These items constitute the backbone of the firefighters' contract.

That means the fire fighters may be forced to seek court action to affirm bargaining rights they have enjoyed for more than 20 years. This radical departure from past practice is the basis of the union's unfair labor practice charge.

As a city resident and professional fire fighter (not employed by Baltimore City), I am outraged at the city's conduct. It is an abrasive and unnecessary attack aimed not only at the city's dedicated fire fighters, but on a provision of the city charter designed to ensure both labor tranquility and uninterrupted public safety.

The arrogance exhibited by the city on this issue is disheartening. My sentiments can best be summarized by borrowing a quote recently used by our sometimes intemperate mayor, "Sic semper tyrannis."

Kevin D. O'Connor, Baltimore

The writer is president of the Baltimore County Professional Firefighters Association.

Subsidized meats provide no `free lunch'

In its editorial supporting the U.S. Department of Agriculture's decision to allow the unlimited use of soy in school lunches, The Sun points out that school lunch programs presently receive "free red meat from government food-surplus programs" ("Food fight," March 8).

As a result, budget-conscious school administrators may be tempted to ignore alternatives which are lower in calories and in dangerous saturated fat and cholesterol.

However, these "free lunches" aren't really free. They're paid for by taxpayers, who fund the frequent government surplus buyouts upon which meat producers have become dependent.

These programs to subsidize the meat industry represent nothing less than corporate welfare.

As we gradually come to recognize healthy alternatives to meat in our diet, perhaps it's time for our elected representatives to re-think these policies.

P. Sapia, Owings Mills

Driving-while-phoning: a major cause of accidents

Much has been made of efforts to end the death penalty in Maryland. We have another death penalty that can easily be done away with by the legislature: the potential for death-by-automobile induced by driving-while-phoning.

The Governmental Affairs Committee of the House of Delegates, headed by Del. John Woods, is considering a bill introduced by Del. John Arnick to make phoning-while-driving a traffic violation.

The fundamental rule of safe driving is to give traffic and your car your full attention. You cannot do this while talking, dialing or taking and leaving messages.

Phoning while driving is up there with drinking and speeding as a primary cause of accidents.

Let's get the phones off the road.

Franklin W. Littleton, Baltimore

Limiting number of permits can stem parking problem

I found the story about the parking problem at Dulaney Valley High School interesting ("Looking for wide open spaces," March 4).

I believe the fault lies with the school administration.

Why did they allow 500 students to register to drive to school when they did not have enough parking ?

The school should only issue permits equal to the number of spaces available on school property -- perhaps limiting them to seniors, those participating after-school extra-curricular activities or those excelling in their studies.

I can sympathize with the students' feelings that it is not very "cool" to ride the bus.

However, it should be considered a privilege and not a right to drive to school -- especially when buses are arriving half-full or with only one student aboard.

Glenn Crinnion, Abingdon

As the parent of a senior at Dulaney High School, I take exception to the implication that most of the students are rude and disrespectful ("Looking for wide open spaces," March 4).

The vast majority of the student body is polite and respectful.

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