Police demand union parity

Council to consider lieutenants' call for representation

January 22, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel sergeants association plans to talk with County Council members next month about legislation that would let it represent county police lieutenants - similar to a provision allowing fire lieutenants and captains to join the union that represents other firefighters and paramedics.

County police lieutenants were denied representation through the sergeants union this month. That decision was based on a section of the county personnel code that prohibits county employees in management positions from participating in an organization that represents the workers they supervise.

Although the code specifically mentions fire captains and lieutenants and ranking detention officers, it does not mention police officers. Nevertheless, county officials said it applied to Police Department personnel.

In October, council members and County Executive Janet S. Owens approved a measure that allows the County Firefighters Association, which represents more than 500 firefighters and paramedics, to represent fire lieutenants and captains.

Several council members have agreed to meet with police sergeants and lieutenants to discuss similar legislation, said Sgt. Bret Ballam, president of the Anne Arundel County Police Sergeants Association, which represents 72 sergeants. "We're hoping to sit down in early February," he said.

The association and its lawyer met last week with the county's personnel director, Mark M. Atkisson, to discuss current laws. Nearly all of the county's 33 police lieutenants have expressed interest in joining the union, and more than half have signed a petition calling for representation, according to union organizers.

"We feel we have a close community of interests," said Sgt. Bryan Heger, vice president of the county sergeants association. "We also don't believe the lieutenants meet the county's definition of a management employee."

Sergeants and lieutenants supervise shifts and oversee crime scenes. They direct employees and may transfer or discipline them in some cases - responsibilities defined as management functions. But neither rank has the authority to perform other duties defined as managerial in the county code, such as hiring and firing employees or giving promotions.

Lieutenants, sergeants and officers were once all represented by the Fraternal Order of Police. But by the late 1980s, both groups of commanders had been removed from the union by county officials. The sergeants formed their association several years later, but lieutenants have remained without union representation.

Several lieutenants approached the sergeants association last year about joining its union, which is affiliated with the International Union of Police Associations, Heger said.

One concern of the lieutenants is salaries. Because the sergeants association negotiated 15 percent raises over the next three years - while lieutenants received a 2 percent raise in the most recent county budget - some lieutenants earn thousands less than the sergeants they supervise, Heger said.

The sergeants' contract resolved a similar salary imbalance between officers and the sergeants who supervise them.

Lieutenants receive additional merit raises based on a pay-for-performance scale.

"The problem with pay-for-performance is that some people get substantial pay increases and some get nothing," Ballam said. "The general consensus among lieutenants is that it's not based on performance, it's based on personality. ... If you're not a friend, you may not get a pay raise."

According to pay-for-performance figures released by the county last week, one lieutenant received a 10 percent raise of $5,875, while other lieutenants received $1,500 lump sums and some received no merit-based increase.

Lieutenants working night shifts don't earn as much shift-differential pay as officers and sergeants. For example, a sergeant working 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. receives an additional 80 cents per hour, while a lieutenant on the same shift gets an additional 40 cents per hour.

Lieutenants in undercover police units also lost their $550 clothing allowance in the recent budget. Although the cost-saving measure affected only about five lieutenants, Heger said, "It's petty things like that that have broken the camel's back."

Union officials predicted the county department would lose lieutenants - who are among its most experienced officers - if issues of fairness aren't addressed.

Allowing the officers to use the same bargaining agent, Heger said, could save taxpayers money, because the county would negotiate with only one association rather than two.

Fire lieutenants and captains were removed from the firefighters union in 1996 in a decision by former County Executive John G. Gary.

Keith Wright, president of the Anne Arundel County Professional Firefighters Local 1563, said those firefighters are free to rejoin the union if they wish.

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