Union OKs county pact

Blue-collar local, Arundel's largest, ratifies 3-year deal

Talks `very professional'

Most members to get 11.5% raise

Owens hails workers

Anne Arundel

March 02, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

County Executive Janet S. Owens has finally achieved labor peace, as Anne Arundel County's largest union has overwhelmingly adopted a new three-year contract.

Most of the union's 850 members, who include public works and maintenance employees, will receive 11.5 percent raises over three years. For others, it will take longer to see the entire raise.

Wednesday night's 179-22 vote by Local 582 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees came eight months after members rejected a less generous three-year offer that grew out of acrimonious talks last spring.

The major difference in the ratified contract is that it carries 3 percent annual raises; the previous offer would have raised salaries 2 percent a year.

The new deal also has a 2.5 percent step increase that will be phased in over three years.

All told, the raises and other awards are expected to cost the county $3.3 million; the previous offer would have cost about $1.9 million, or 42 percent less.

"It's the best deal we've had as a local, money-wise, since 1987," said Scott Harmon, president of the blue-collar local. But Harmon said it's not just the money; a key change since last year was the departure of Randall J. Schultz as county personnel officer. Schultz, who resigned last fall, had contentious relations with the union.

Harmon had high praise for Schultz's successor, Mark M. Atkisson. "It was a very professional negotiation," he said, praising Atkisson's straightforwardness. "Facts and figures were laid out."

Owens was unavailable for comment yesterday but issued a statement applauding the employees, who cast secret ballots at Arundel Middle School.

"You have no idea of my commitment to this group of people," she said. "These are the county employees who do the day-in and day-out work that often goes unheralded. They are the bedrock of county services."

Last year, Owens ran into trouble with the union after it learned of the lucrative contracts she had sealed with county police officers and firefighters.

The talks with the blue-collar union reached an impasse, leading to mediation and fact-finding. The County Council got involved, recommending a 3 percent raise for the current fiscal year only. The union sought 4.6 percent. Owens in late May ignored them both and decided to award 2 percent.

In June, the union's members voted on the county's offer of 2 percent raises in each of the next three years. They rejected it 153-100.

Harmon said his union approached Owens last fall and presented a new contract package that it thought would win the support of members. The only component Owens rejected, Harmon said, was a more generous schedule for awarding longevity pay.

Enhanced retirement benefits are unchanged from the rejected contract offer: Owens will support legislation allowing union members to retire with 30 years of service at any age. Previously, employees with 30 years had to be at least age 55 to retire.

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