Stalled contract negotiations for police and firefighters in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties will go to binding arbitration under charter amendments approved Tuesday, giving the public safety unions a right they have long favored -- and county governments have traditionally opposed.
Voters in those two counties approved the amendments Tuesday by about 80 percent.
"Much like our brothers in Baltimore County, we are elated that citizens came forward to support us," said O'Brien Atkinson, president of the Anne Arundel County Fraternal Order of Police and chairman of the Anne Arundel committee of 1,800 union members formed to pursue binding arbitration.
The six-union committee, made up of police, firefighters, sheriff's deputies and detention center employees, flooded Anne Arundel with 1,500 signs.
Opponents of binding arbitration in Anne Arundel did not actively campaign against the charter amendments, said Mark M. Atkisson, director of personnel for the county. As a result, voters might not have understood the concept and financial effects when they voted, he said.
Unions say binding arbitration will streamline negotiations by making an arbitrator's decision final.
In Anne Arundel County, the fire and police amendments were placed on the ballot by the County Council this summer. In Baltimore County, union leaders collected more than 10,000 signatures needed to place the question on the ballot.
The strong voter approval in both counties could pave the way for the few remaining Baltimore-area jurisdictions that do not have binding arbitration -- notably Howard County -- to begin pursuing it.
"We've already targeted the next election," said James F. Fitzgerald, president of the Howard County Fraternal Order of Police. "We believe in having parity with the other counties -- for everything from pay to benefits to union operations."
Atkinson, half joking, said he was considering collecting some of the campaign signs in Anne Arundel for Howard County.