Council courted by fire union

Dispute over number of hours in workweek

Mayor calls move `bad faith'

Annapolis

May 09, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Frustrated that contract negotiations between Annapolis firefighters and the city have broken off, representatives from the firefighters union have begun courting city council members.

Some council members attended a briefing last night by the union, which is seeking a shorter workweek that city officials have said they cannot afford.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer objected to the union's overtures with council members, saying the firefighters' representatives were engaging in "bad faith" negotiations by attempting to go around the city's designated negotiators. At her urging, the city attorney wrote a memo recommending that city council members refer union representatives to the city's chief negotiator.

The mayor left open the possibility that talks could resume.

"The door is still open and they can still negotiate if they choose to come back," Moyer said yesterday.

But union president Daniel Grimes said yesterday that the next step could be arbitration.

Union representatives walked out of talks with the city last week. Grimes, who is an emergency medical technician with the Fire Department, said the main sticking point was the city's refusal to negotiate on a union proposal to reduce the number of hours that firefighters work.

Annapolis firefighters work an average of 56 hours each week, Grimes said - more than many jurisdictions including Anne Arundel County. County firefighters, who make about the same annual salary, get 14 extra days off each year, which makes their average workweek about 49 hours.

The union wants the city to provide extra days off, a shortened workweek or additional overtime pay, Grimes said. He also complained that the city is asking firefighters to pay for a greater share of their health insurance premiums.

But Moyer said yesterday that the city has offered all that it can afford. The city has proposed adding four firefighters to the department, but to decrease the workweek to 49 hours would require hiring 14 firefighters at a cost of $410,000, she said.

"The city cannot go bankrupt," Moyer said. "There is a total unavailability of dollars to make that happen."

Moyer says she thinks the offer that the city has made is "a fair contract."

She said that the city met many of the union's demands, including providing health benefits to retirees and a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for all employees. Many firefighters will also receive a 5 percent raise this year under a revised city pay scale adopted last year. Moyer said, the city has also agreed to study improved pension benefits and 20-year retirement during the next year.

After walking out of negotiations last week, Grimes arranged to "educate" alderman about the negotiations at a meeting last night. As he began making calls to aldermen, Moyer asked the city attorney to explain to council members what their role is in negotiations - none.

In a memo drafted Monday and distributed to council members, City Attorney Paul G. Goetzke suggested council members refer all union calls to the city's human resources director, who is leading the negotiations. The role of the council is to ratify the agreement after it is accepted by city staff and the union.

But that did not discourage some council members from attending the meeting with the union last night.

Alderman Sheila M. Tolliver, who attended along with Aldermen George O. Kelley, Louise Hammond and Classie Gillis Hoyle, noted after meeting that while the council does not negotiate the contract, it can convey its wishes to the mayor and use the budget "as a tool."

Sun staff writer Laura Barnhardt contributed to this article.

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