Baltimore County public safety union officials argued yesterday for amendments to a County Council bill authorizing binding arbitration for their members that would allow arbitrators to consider more factors in making their decisions.
Specifically, the unions want the arbitrators to be allowed to consider salaries and working conditions of public safety workers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties and to look at the county's reserve funds, not just its annual tax receipts, in deciding on contract provisions for police, fire fighters and emergency medical personnel.
"If this bill is passed in its current form, binding arbitration will exist in name only." said Cole B. Weston, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, which represents county officers.
Binding arbitration, which is already in place for public safety unions in Montgomery, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties and for firefighters in Baltimore City, allows either labor or management to declare an impasse at a certain point in negotiations if contract issues can't be resolved. Both sides then present their cases to a neutral arbitrator, who holds hearings and renders a decision, which both sides must follow.
County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s administration also presented amendments at the council's work session yesterday. Administrative Officer Anthony G. Marchione said they would clarify the process and make it more compatible with the annual budget cycle.
Although Smith opposed binding arbitration as a candidate, Marchione said the administration supports the concept.
The bill would allow for the sides to engage in a prearbitration conference with the arbitrator acting to mediate between the two sides in a last-ditch effort at negotiation, a step the administration would like to eliminate, Marchione said.
"If we're going to have a mediation process, let's split that out as a mediation process." he said.
The executive also is seeking to change the proposed timeline, which would require a final decision from the arbitrator just a week before the administration is required to submit its annual budget to the council. That schedule wouldn't even allow enough time for printing the budget, much less changing it to reflect an arbitrator's decision, Marchione said.
Marchione also presented an amendment that would reduce the pool of potential arbitrators from 40 to nine. In the proposed system, labor and management take turns striking possible arbitrators from the list - a process like jury selection - until they settle on one to conduct the hearing. Marchione said it would be impossible for the county to do enough research to know which of 40 potential arbitrators to strike.
International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1311 President Michael K. Day Sr. said the unions have already agreed to significant concessions that are not present in binding arbitration legislation in other Maryland counties.