Dispute over pay, prescription benefits ties up talks with police, city workers

Friday is deadline for deal with unions

June 27, 2000|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

As a Friday midnight deadline looms, health benefits and pay raises remain the sticking points in contract talks with three city unions representing 13,000 of Baltimore's city employees, including police officers.

The city administration is asking workers to increase their share of the cost for prescription drugs, saying that spending on prescriptions for city workers and retirees has doubled to $60 million in the last five years.

Although sides aren't commenting on specifics, city workers would like to see a pay increase beginning July 1, the start of the fiscal year.

"If there is one message I want to get across to city employees, [it] is the need to be patient with this new administration," Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday of the talks.

"Nobody is going to get what they want in the first year," the mayor said.

Union leaders for the 5,000 members of the Baltimore City Union and 5,000 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 44 also are in final days of negotiations with City Hall.

Earlier this year, the city negotiated contracts with the two unions representing its 1,700 firefighters and officers - the first of the labor agreements that traditionally sets the tone for remaining contracts. That deal included a provision for them to double their share of prescription costs from $5 to $10.

The city offered firefighters a 2 percent raise, though they won a 3 percent increase in an arbitration hearing before Baltimore Circuit Court Judge John C. Themelis on March 31.

The city has appealed Themelis's arbitration ruling to the Court of Special Appeals, objecting to a clause that requires the administration to grant the same percentage pay increases to firefighters as to police.

Last year, Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger separated the pay scales of police and firefighters in order to pay officers more. The one-of-a-kind deal for police - which pumped $20 million into officers' salaries - was aimed at helping recruit and retain officers in the county by boosting salaries, among the lowest in Maryland.

O'Malley, too, wants to give higher percentage raises to the city's 3,000 police officers, in an effort to deter them from leaving the force for higher-paying jobs in surrounding county departments. The pay increase is an issue that has yet to be decided.

"Nobody puts the best deal on the table when you walk in," Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 President Gary L. McLhinney said. "Contract negotiations are like buying a car, you always walk away thinking you could do better."

O'Malley is also asking for a change in disciplinary rules regarding officers so that the city can be more proactive in "policing the police," the mayor said.

Because they are public safety workers, police and firefighters are prohibited from striking.

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