Pay offers leave others feeling slighted

Not all county unions on par with police, fire

March 28, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

For many of Anne Arundel County's unionized employees, the first slap was news that county police officers would receive a 17 percent pay raise over three years.

The second slap landed with word that firefighters had been offered 13 percent in a three-year pact -- and rejected it.

Both offers far exceed what the county has put on the table for those who aren't public-safety workers, and the unions for other county employees don't appreciate it.

"My people were kind of offended," said Donna Getter, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2563, which represents clerical workers and secretaries. "Nobody wants to be made to feel they're less important than another group."

Getter's bargaining unit is one of six representing 2,000 employees that have yet to find common ground with the county on wages. Time is running out on labor negotiations because the contracts expire June 30 and new ones must be agreed to by the end of May.

Ultimately the decision might fall to County Executive Janet S. Owens. County employees cannot strike under law. If mediation and fact-finding fail to unstick talks, the unions can plead their case before the County Council. But the council can only recommend funding to Owens.

"The county executive really has all the power here," said Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., a Millersville Democrat. "She can say, `Look, I'm going to give you 1 or 2 percent; you're stuck with that.' "

Owens, a Democrat, is not commenting on negotiations. But some unions are trying to nudge the county to offer more money with reminders that they helped elect her in 1998.

"We're friends with the county executive, and worked very hard in the election," said Scott Harmon, president of AFSCME's blue-collar Local 582 -- the county's largest, with 880 members. "We're trying to keep that relationship."

Harmon said his members are asking, "We're friends, so how come we're not being treated that way?"

Neither Harmon nor Getter would discuss talks in detail, and the county's personnel officer, Randall Schultz, also declined to get into specifics. But Klosterman said other unions will be disappointed if they expect the deal the police union fought for and won.

"They're not going to get anything near that," Klosterman said. "We just don't have the money."

Unionized groups without new contracts include police sergeants, firefighters, detention center officers and personnel, deputy sheriffs, blue-collar workers and clerical workers. Only deputy sheriffs are not at an impasse, Schultz said. In all, the unions represent about half of the county's 3,800 employees. All received a 3 percent raise last year.

In some ways, Owens is in a Catch-22, council members say. The less she offers, the louder unions will howl. But the more she gives, the less money she will have to work with in the budget for the 2001 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

"Clearly it impacts the ability to add positions in departments where you need more staff," said Councilman John J. Klocko III, a Crofton Republican. "It compounds the impact from last year's operating budget, [when] the government took money from every department to fund the Board of Education."

Owens has long said the 520 police officers deserve a significant raise because their counterparts in surrounding counties earn a lot more money, making it difficult for the county to keep officers. But Getter said Arundel's clerical staff and secretaries earn anywhere from 3 percent to 42 percent less than those in similar jobs in other counties.

"We can all look around and find where other people [in neighboring counties] are getting paid more," she said.

Harmon believes blue-collar workers do not get the credit they deserve, even if they don't put their lives on the line, as police officers and firefighters do.

"The citizens see fire and police as the people who provide quality service," Harmon said. "We see it the other way around. We provide services people enjoy every day: water, wastewater, roads ."

Klosterman and Klocko said Owens was right to give police officers large raises. They wonder, though, whether she made a strategic mistake by not keeping the deal secret or saving the police contract for last.

"I think they would have done well to maintain a veil of secrecy pending the outcome of other negotiations," Klocko said.

Schultz says he's "moderately" optimistic about reaching deals with every union.

"We're very close with a couple of locals," he said. "With others we're further apart and may not reach an agreement. But we still have hopes of doing so."

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