Baltimore County police prepare for contract vote

Talks yield one-year deal with raise, 2 more holidays

February 03, 2004|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County police are scheduled to vote next week on a one-year contract that would give all officers $2,500 raises and two more days of holiday pay, officials said yesterday.

The tentative contract - expected to cost the county $4.4 million - is the first to be presented to a union representing county workers. All union contracts expire in July.

Cole Weston, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, the union that represents the county's 1,740 officers, said the contract would help make salary and benefits for the department comparable to police in nearby jurisdictions.

"This is an important step in attracting quality people to the department," Weston said. Starting salary for a county police officer is now $34,577.

More than half of the officers, corporals, sergeants and lieutenants represented by the FOP must ratify the contract during voting sessions Monday for the deal to take effect in July, Weston said.

The agreement was tentatively accepted by police union officials late last week after three months of negotiations.

Under the terms of the deal, officers would receive holiday pay for working Labor Day and New Year's Day and a $2,500 raise in January next year.

The contract would also insert a 4.2 percent step salary increase for officers after 13 years on the job - rather than 15 years - and would give officers three weeks of vacation after five years on the job. That's up from two weeks.

Police have been working under the terms of an expired contract since July, when labor talks stalled.

Since then, a new county law has taken effect giving police and fire unions the right to binding arbitration. The law has sparked worries by other county employees that police and firefighters will receive more generous contracts and that other workers will be shortchanged.

County Labor Commissioner George E. Gay said the county's offer was based on salary comparisons with surrounding jurisdictions, not the availability of binding arbitration.

"I'm optimistic we'll reach agreements with all the unions," Gay said.

Labor talks continue with five other unions that represent about 3,500 county employees including public health nurses, firefighters, 911 operators and janitors.

No group of Baltimore County employees has gotten an across-the-board cost-of-living adjustment for two years.

However, after denying raises to firefighters and police officers last year, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. agreed to increase the salaries of some top police and fire commanders by 4 percent to 5 percent beginning in July to keep their salaries competitive with those in neighboring counties.

Firefighters have been in labor talks since Nov. 6 but have not reached an agreement, said Michael K. Day Sr., president of the Baltimore County Professional Fire Fighters Association.

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