Though voters approved in November the use of binding arbitration to settle contract disputes between Baltimore County and police officers and firefighters, it appears the process will have no role in labor talks that got under way last month.
County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has asked the County Council to have a lawyer review the proposed amendment to the County Charter that would put the new system in place. Although the charter will eventually reflect the will of the voters, it may take until the next round of negotiations in four years before the change is put into practice.
FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Sun incorrectly reported the length of the contracts being sought by Baltimore County police and firefighters in talks with the county. Both groups currently have four-year contracts, but union leaders say they will seek a one-year pact so that binding arbitration - approved by voters in November - will be available in the next round of talks. The use of binding arbitration has been delayed as lawyers review a proposed amendment that would add the process to the county charter.
The Sun regrets the error.
The delay has disappointed union leaders who lobbied voters to support binding arbitration, a process that allows a neutral third party to settle contract disputes.
The four-year contracts for 1,800 police officers and 1,000 firefighters and paramedics expire June 30.
"The professional firefighters in this county have waited 20 years for binding arbitration. If it takes another year to get it right, we'll have to deal with that," said Michael K. Day Sr., president of the Baltimore County Professional Firefighters Association, which represents firefighters and paramedics.
Though they campaigned for the charter change, Day and Cole B. Weston, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, said their goal is to ratify a contract without outside intervention.
But they said it was important that an arbitrator be able to settle a labor dispute in the event of stalled negotiations, because public safety employees, by law, can't strike.
Under the current system, either side can call for an arbitrator, but neither side is forced to abide by the arbitrator's decision.
Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat, said members agreed a lawyer should review the charter amendment before the council votes on it.
"The implications of this amendment haven't been explored totally," Kamenetz said, noting there wasn't much public debate about binding arbitration before the election.