Baltimore County firefighters overwhelmingly ratified a one-year labor agreement last night that will improve pension benefits and some working conditions, according to union officials.
The contract will not increase wages of the county's 1,000 firefighters and paramedics or cost-of-living adjustments, although base salaries will rise in a trade-off that eliminates other payments they receive.
County Executive James T. Smith Jr. had said in his budget address last month that the county couldn't afford pay raises for any employees this year.
Still, Michael K. Day Sr., president of the Baltimore County Professional Fire Fighters Association, said he is pleased with the first round of labor talks with the Smith administration.
Smith has requested $2 million over the next two years to install diesel emissions systems in county fire stations, which union leaders have been requesting for the past 15 years, Day said.
"The response was pretty favorable, considering the economic times we're in," Day said, noting that the 86 percent vote in favor of ratification was the largest in the union's history.
Day said the union will only sign a one-year contract because the County Council has not made changes to the county code providing for binding arbitration during labor negotiations, even though voters approved the measure in a referendum in November.
Binding arbitration would require county officials and union leaders to abide by the decisions of a third-party arbitrator in cases where contract negotiations with firefighters and police officers stall. Neither group is allowed to strike under state law.
"At least we're getting something with the economy the way it is," said Pete Schoenbrodt, a county firefighter for 22 years, after the voting at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium attended by more than half of those covered by the contract taking effect July 1.
Under terms of the new contract, firefighters are giving up shift differentials and clothing allowances to increase their base pay, which will improve retirement benefits.