Anne Arundel officials, 5 unions agree on contracts

March 31, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,Sun reporter

Anne Arundel County yesterday announced tentative agreements with five unions that make up about half of the county's work force, including the one representing police officers.

No details were disclosed, but county officials said they expect the interim contracts to be ratified next week. The deals were reached about a month before County Executive John R. Leopold announces his first budget.

"It's a good omen," Leopold said. "Things are moving along well in the negotiation process." He added: "Hopefully, this is a harbinger of a successful completion of all of them."

County officials said it struck tentative deals with about 1,200 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 582, which represent labor and maintenance employees; AFSCME local 2563, which represents administrative support staff; and about 560 workers of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Agreements were also separately reached with the sergeants and officers at the county detention centers.

Leaders representing the AFSCME and police unions, along with county personnel officials, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Some County Council members said they were encouraged by the progress, but they were cautious about making judgments because they were not privy to details of the contracts.

"What it indicates is that all sides have had an open dialogue and a willingness, I assume, to compromise," said County Councilman Daryl D. Jones, a Democrat. "Without seeing the details, I don't know the degree to which compromise has been made."

County officials and business leaders have worried how a deal giving teachers a 6 percent raise each year of a three-year contract would influence negotiations this spring with the 10 unions, particularly the firefighters and police officers, who could pursue binding arbitration. Then-County Executive Janet S. Owens endorsed the first salary boost last year, and Leopold has said he would fund this year's raise.

Some wondered how the local government could pay for similar raises, given the restrictions of the county's property-tax cap. There is a general apprehension about raising the income tax and numerous other expenses, such a $1.5 billion school maintenance backlog and rising retiree health care costs for county workers.

Voters in 2002 approved binding arbitration for public safety workers, shifting final say in a collective bargaining agreement from county government to an independent arbitrator. The council affirmed that in 2003.

"There was some concern from the public safety groups about them going to binding arbitration," said County Council Chairman Ronald C. Dillon Jr., a Republican. "We worried that [the negotiations] would be ugly. I am glad there was a meeting of the minds."

The largest remaining union without a new contract, the county's firefighters, also can exercise binding arbitration.

Sun reporter Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

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