Baltimore County Digest

BALTIMORE COUNTY DIGEST

May 09, 2007

Workers reject offer, keep old contract

More than 800 Baltimore County employees will continue working under their current labor contract for the next year after their union rejected a proposal that would have traded pay raises for changes to retirement benefits.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 921 voted Monday by a margin of 9-to-1 against a proposal for a new contract, union leaders said. The union represents maintenance workers, carpenters and truck drivers.

Union leaders said a sticking point was a proposed change that would force employees with less than 30 years' service to work until age 65, instead of 60, to receive full retirement benefits. County officials say the change is needed to reduce long-term costs to the county.

"It was a terrible deal for our members and a terrible deal for working families all throughout this county," said Kory Blake, the union's chief negotiator.

He said the union will urge the county to reopen negotiations.

But a spokesman for County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said that because the administration has submitted a budget proposal to the County Council, negotiations on labor deals cannot take place until next year.

"The unfortunate part is that next year, we will be back at the bargaining table talking about these very same issues, because the issues don't go away," said Smith's spokesman, Donald I. Mohler.

County officials also have asked government attorneys for an opinion on whether the local police union's recent rejection of proposed changes in health benefits would affect its new labor contract.

The local Fraternal Order of Police rejected changes that would require higher employee contributions to health plans, Mohler said. He said it is unclear whether the union vote on the health benefits package would affect the separate labor deal arrived at recently through binding arbitration.

Josh Mitchell

Towing companies

Bill would aid minorities A Baltimore County Council member has introduced legislation that he says would allow more minority-owned towing companies to do business in the county.

The proposal by Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, would remove a requirement that towing companies applying for business licenses prove there is a need for more tow-truck drivers in the county.

Because it is difficult to prove such a need, new companies are seldom granted licenses, creating a "monopoly" for about 30 companies, said Donald I. Mohler, a spokesman for County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who has announced his support for the bill.

The proposal also calls for the county government to hire a contractor to monitor tow-truck drivers to ensure that consumers are not charged exorbitant rates, Mohler said.

Josh Mitchell

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