Citing pay disparity and the potential loss of officers, Anne Arundel County Councilman James Benoit has introduced legislation that would allow county police lieutenants to unionize.
Frustrated that subordinates earn more money and have greater job protections, the lieutenants have been trying to become part of a bargaining unit since last year but have been rebuffed by a county government that opposes unionization of management personnel.
"The injustice is, the lieutenants get less pay than the cops that work for them," said Benoit, a Democrat. "They get promoted and get paid less, which is completely outrageous."
Police lieutenants occupy key supervisory roles, but their work has changed. Lieutenants spend more time on the streets with their officers, exposing them to the same risks.
While union agreements have granted pay increases for sergeants, nonunionized employees have not gotten raises and many have had to take 12 unpaid furlough days this year as the county sought to close a budget gap. And lower-ranked officers can earn overtime pay — a benefit not extended to lieutenants.
Cpl. O'Brien Atkinson, president of Anne Arundel's Fraternal Order of Police, said the pay disparity has created problems when trying to fill lieutenant positions. While lieutenants in Anne Arundel were prevented from unionizing in 1979, Atkinson said, nearby Baltimore City and Baltimore and Prince George's counties allow police lieutenants to unionize.
"Lieutenants are arguably the most important, most experienced officers on the street, taking the lead on murder and narcotics," Atkinson said. "These are the guys who are the leaders on the street. To take the promotion, you're taking on an added responsibility for less pay. It defies logic."
Andrea Fulton, the county's personnel officer, disputed the idea that the county has problems filling lieutenant positions, which are only filled internally. Since July 2009, the department has filled 11 lieutenant's vacancies, Fulton said, including three this month.
Of the department's 671 sworn positions, 32 are lieutenants.
"Police lieutenants are responsible for critical positions and critical units, including internal affairs and communications," Fulton said. "The concern is if you have these managerial positions in a bargaining unit with people they supervise. We don't want the lieutenants making critical decisions and worrying about a conflict with their brothers or sisters in the union."
Councilman Chuck Ferrar, a Democrat, said he supports the bill to allow unionization.
"It's just the right thing to do," he said. "It's a matter of fairness. A supervisor shouldn't be making less than someone they're supervising."
Atkinson said council support for the bill will likely loom large in who receives much-coveted police union endorsements.
"Four years ago, we did not endorse anyone that opposed lieutenants being represented, and I don't see this year being much different," Atkinson said.
In October, the county denied a request by police Lt. Timothy Zywiolek that the rank be allowed to unionize. The decision has been appealed to the county's Board of Appeals.
Though county police lieutenants are restricted, lieutenants in the Fire Department can unionize.
"It works extremely well for us," said Craig Oldershaw, president of Anne Arundel County Professional Firefighters Local 1563. "We don't have any problems."
Zywiolek will celebrate his 24th year with the county police next month and has been a lieutenant for six years.
"I love this department," he said, but "the pay range for lieutenants is just destroying us."
"The department has changed for the better," Zywiolek said. "Lieutenants are front-line supervisors. We're encouraged to be on the street more. So, we'd like the same protections our officers have, if we have to use deadly force or someone gets hurt.
"We're not trying to squeeze a dollar out of the county when there's isn't one," he said. "I have younger officers coming to me asking for advice about career paths. I tell them to move up in rank so one day they can become a captain or a major. They tell me they would like to, but they just can't afford the pay cut."