Balto. Co. gives deadline to unions on labor deals

March 31, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,Sun reporter

Baltimore County officials say they will take away pay raises they have offered to detention center staff, public health nurses and 911 operators if their unions don't accept a new labor agreement by next week.

The Baltimore County chapter of the Federation of Public Employees (FPE) and the Baltimore County Federation of Public Health Nurses have until Thursday to decide whether to accept one-year labor deals, according to letters sent by George E. Gay, the county's labor commissioner.

Gay wrote that county officials must know whether they have a deal by then because the administration must present a balanced budget to the County Council by April 16. And he said that the unions missed the deadline to use a "fact finder" to help reach a settlement.

The unions for the 93 nurses and nurse practitioners and the 1,700 other county employees are the only bargaining groups that have not reached a tentative labor agreement with the county.

Jim Miller, president of the county's chapter of the FPE, called the letter "another strong-arm tactic" by the county and said that union officials have consulted with their attorney about their response.

Michael K. Spiller, the chief negotiator for the county's Federation of Public Health Nurses, said that the union also had received notice of the deadline and had not decided how it will reply.

At issue in the stalled negotiations is a proposed change that would force current employees who do not have 30 years of service to work until the age of 65, Miller said. Those employees are now eligible for full retirement benefits at age 60, he said.

But Jim Clark, an FPE member and former president of its Baltimore County chapter, said that he believes the union members should have the opportunity to vote on the county's offer.

Six unions represent county employees.

Most of them have been offered cost-of-living raises of 2 1/2 percent to 3 percent, in addition to restructuring of pay scales, according to union and county officials. But they are also being asked to make health care concessions - higher out-of-pocket expenses that would be spread over the next five years.

The proposed deals also would lengthen the amount of time that new county employees have to work before retirement, said Fred J. Homan, the county administrative officer.

Many current county employees are able to retire with full benefits after 30 years of service, but new employees hired in similar positions would have to work 35 years to receive similar benefits.

Current employees will continue to be offered a deferred retirement option program. In it, employees are offered a lump-sum payment at retirement in exchange for smaller, monthly pension payments after retirement, according to memos sent to employees this week.

"The whole point is to make it advantageous to work longer," said Homan.

The county has reached tentative agreements with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 921, Professional Fire Fighters IAFF Local 1311 and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 25, which represents deputy sheriffs, said Donald I. Mohler III, a county spokesman.

As the result of binding arbitration, a tentative settlement has also been reached with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, which represents sworn police officers, county officials said.

Baltimore County firefighters are to vote on a new one-year contract April 12.

Under the proposal, firefighters would receive a 3 percent cost-of-living raise in July, as well as some financial rewards for senior firefighters, but would accept higher health care costs over the next five years, said Michael K. Day Sr., president of the firefighters local.

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