County faces salary dispute

Firefighters to appeal to public after turning down contract offer

March 27, 2000|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County firefighters' requests for pay raises equal to those just negotiated with police haven't been met in the bargaining room. So this morning, firefighters say, they will begin exploring how to bring their appeal before politicians and the public.

"We're asking for basic dignity," said Jim Edwards, president of Anne Arundel County Professional Firefighters Local 1563, which represents the county's 470 firefighters. "We are the other half of public safety."

County officials can expect to hear this message this week, although Edwards declined to comment on how firefighters might express their objections to the county's latest offer.

The executive board of the firefighters union will meet this morning to devise a political strategy, he said.

Union officials rejected Friday the county's offer of a 5 percent pay raise next year, and 5 percent and 3 percent raises in the second and third years of the proposed contract.

Not only was the proposal less than the 17 percent pay raise offered to county police over the next three years, it also would have restructured firefighters' pay scale so that many would not receive the entire raise, Edwards said.

"It would have been far less than what it sounds like they're offering," he said. Firefighters and police sergeants -- who have their own union -- have said they expect County Executive Janet S. Owens to keep her promise to pay public safety employees a wage comparable to that of their counterparts in other counties.

However, the six-hour bargaining session with a federal mediator Friday was unsuccessful, according to firefighters' union officials.

"The county was not willing to negotiate," said Edwards. "All they wanted to do was dictate."

County personnel director Randy Schultz declined to comment on the talks. But, he said, a fact-finder would be brought in for the next round of negotiations. Unlike a mediator, whose goal is to bring the sides to an agreement, a fact-finder may make a recommendation, Schultz said.

The county has reached a labor agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents about 520 officers. Police ratified a contract that provides a 7 percent pay raise next year and 5 percent increases the following two years.

The county is also negotiating with five other unions, which represent about 75 police sergeants, nearly 400 clerical workers, 800 maintenance workers and equipment operators, 220 corrections officers, and 50 deputy sheriffs.

Last year, all county employees received a 3 percent pay raise.

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