City officials and two labor unions reached a tentative agreement yesterday that would give 2 percent raises to about half the city's workers while also charging them more for health benefits.
The membership of the city's two largest unions - the City Union of Baltimore and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 44 - has to approve the agreement.
But after a months-long impasse, participants said they were hopeful that they'd made a breakthrough.
"We've been working very hard with AFSCME and CUB, and negotiating in good faith with them in a very, very tough budget year," Mayor Martin O'Malley said. "I think today we're making progress."
Glenard S. Middleton Sr., president of the AFSCME Local 44, said he would not discuss the agreement until he presents it to the membership. Officials with CUB could not be reached for comment.
If the contracts are ratified, the 6,500 workers represented by the two unions would be the only city employees to receive raises in the coming fiscal year.
Police, firefighters and fire officers agreed this year to contracts that provide no raises and require them to cover more of their health care premiums.
The AFSCME and CUB had argued that their members, who have been working without a contract since July, could not afford any givebacks because they include some of the city's lowest-paid workers.
Under the tentative agreement reached after a day of negotiations, the workers would pay 15 percent more for insurance. They would receive a 2 percent raise beginning Jan. 1, plus a 2 percent raise for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
"They did a great job bargaining," said city Labor Commissioner Denise F. Gregory.
The O'Malley administration has had a strained relationship with some of the city's unions, as it has sought to privatize some city jobs to trim costs.
Although the AFSCME and CUB fought for pay raises, they agreed that the cash-strapped city has to pass some of its escalating health care costs on to workers, participants in the negotiations said.
"All sides agree we're in a difficult situation and these health care costs are at a pace that the city cannot continue to absorb on its own," First Deputy Mayor Michael R. Enright said.