In what might be the strongest indication yet of how much Anne Arundel County is struggling to reach contract settlements with its employee unions, Executive Janet S. Owens has proposed a cost-saving measure that would take effect if talks are still at a stalemate July 1, the beginning of next fiscal year.
The legislation that was introduced at her request during the County Council's meeting Monday night would hold off all raises and could lead to health insurance increases for all union members who don't have a new contract by July 1.
"Really what it's doing is removing collective bargaining for our labor groups," said O'Brien Atkinson, the president of the Anne Arundel County lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. "It kind of flies of the face of reason. If they want a monarchy, this is the kind of legislation they're going to have to put forward."
The bill introduced Monday applies to the five of the county's nine unions, which are either at an impasse or still are negotiating with the county, Personnel Officer Mark Atkisson said. Those unions represent the public safety workers and office support staff.
"It has been a tough negotiation process," Atkisson said. "I still hope we will reach an agreement with some of them, if not all."
If the legislation passes, Atkisson will be able to set the health insurance rate for any union member not under contract. For those with an expired contract, the bill would suspend merit and longevity increases for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. The rest of the provisions in this year's contracts would roll over into the next fiscal year.
For several months, the county has been going public with its difficult financial situation. County officials are expecting at least a $10 million cut in state funding from their nearly $900 million operating budget. Department heads have been asked to prepare budgets with cuts. Officials have said layoffs are possible.
The council recently passed legislation that provides for binding arbitration in prolonged negotiations with public safety unions, but that process does not take effect for another year.
Previously, when a union didn't reach a contract by July 1, both sides agreed to roll over the old contract until a new one was reached, Atkisson said.
The council is scheduled to vote on the bill May 5.