City approves deals with two labor unions

Mayor may avoid worker unrest with pacts providing 4% raises

July 28, 2005|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's lowest-paid government workers will receive 4 percent annual pay raises under three-year contracts reached with Mayor Martin O'Malley that will likely ensure the mayor avoids labor unrest in the city as he runs for governor next year.

The contracts with the City Union of Baltimore and AFSCME Local 44 complete the administration's goal of signing long-term deals with all of its bargaining unions, including the units representing police officers, firefighters and fire officers.

The deals with the City Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will cost the city about $36 million over the next three fiscal years. Workers are getting an average 4 percent pay raise in each of those three years but will have to pay slightly more for health coverage.

The city's Board of Estimates yesterday approved AFSCME's deal, which was the last to be completed.

O'Malley said he was happy to "get square" with employees in the two unions, who for years had to endure little or no raises, layoffs and shifting of some of their work to private employers. Meanwhile, employees in the police and fire departments have enjoyed more generous contracts in line with the mayor's focus on public safety.

That priority, O'Malley said, "required your employees to sacrifice."

"We couldn't afford to give them the raises we would have liked to, yet they still showed up," O'Malley said.

Glenard S. Middleton Sr., AFSCME's president, said he was thrilled with the deals.

"They have suffered for years," Middleton said. "Today I can say their suffering is over."

Brenda J. Clayburn, City Union president, agreed with Middleton and said her deal, ratified last month, was "the best" the union had received under O'Malley.

She said she made it clear to city negotiators that her union and AFSCME had been neglected for too long.

"We took a back seat, knowing that public safety was important," she said. "Now it's time for our just desserts."

O'Malley said the money spent bolstering public safety attracted more investment to the city by reducing violent crime. That investment, he said, results in more tax revenues. The city ended fiscal year 2005 in June with a significant cash surplus, enabling city officials to cut property taxes this year.

City Union and AFSCME represent slightly more than 6,000 blue-collar employees with average salaries of approximately $30,000 and $27,500, respectively, said Labor Commissioner Sean Malone. Of the two, AFSCME got a slightly better deal because the city agreed to give Middleton's members higher pay raises for reaching certain seniority levels.

Malone said this is the first time in several years that the city has forged multi-year deals with all of its unions. The contracts with the police and fire unions end June 30, 2007 and provide those members with pay raises totaling 9 percent. The deals approved yesterday end a year later.

Long-term deals help the city and the unions save on annual negotiating costs and provide stability in financial planning, city officials said.

"This will enable management and labor to work together without the specter of looming contract negotiations," Malone said. "It's good for the workers and it's good for the citizens."

It's also good for O'Malley, union leaders said.

Middleton said it didn't hurt negotiating tactics to know O'Malley is expected to run for governor and that union endorsements will soon become an important commodity in the race.

"Politics play into everything," he said.

Malone said political discussions do not arise in negotiations.

"We negotiate contracts; we don't ask for endorsements," Malone said.

During the 2003 primary election for mayor, O'Malley incurred the wrath of City Union and AFSCME because of protracted negotiations with the units. The groups held a large protest outside City Hall. Middleton also engineered a rebuke to O'Malley when AFL-CIO leaders failed to overcome AFSCME objections to endorsing O'Malley.

Clayburn agreed that "politics never came up in our negotiations."

"However," she added, "I'm sure the mayor doesn't want to have any labor problems" as he runs for governor.

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