Council OKs bill allowing Anne Arundel police lieutenants to organize

August 19, 2010|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County police lieutenants now have the chance to organize.

The County Council has unanimously approved a bill that allows lieutenants to join a union or form their own, in an effort to provide greater fairness in compensation.

Lieutenants, who occupy key supervisory roles, often are paid less than some of their subordinates because they are not part of a union and cannot earn overtime. The department, including Police Chief James Teare Sr., has sought to keep the lieutenants from unionizing, arguing that lieutenants joining less-senior officers in a union could present a conflict.

The legislation was introduced by Councilman James Benoit.

"There's a number of sergeants who are otherwise well-qualified who will not seek promotion, because it will be accompanied by a fairly substantial pay cut," said Benoit. "I put this bill in to try to solve the problem."

Monday night's vote followed impassioned pleas from dozens of county officers — many of whom claimed they were qualified to become lieutenants but had decided not to seek the post because it would hurt them financially.

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.

Zywiolek, a 24-year veteran of the department, said fewer sergeants — the rank below lieutenant — are applying for the more prestigious job because taking the job would amount to a pay cut.

"You need the best people as police lieutenants," said Zywiolek. "They're the guardians of integrity. I'm quite offended that by somehow becoming a represented employee that's going to change. Soon, the best people won't be applying."

Teare said being a lieutenant requires "a lot of responsibility," adding, "It has to be mission first. … It may not say 'management' in their description, but they are certainly commanders. If they become unionized, they could make a decision on what's best for the union, and not for Anne Arundel County."

Andrea Fulton, the county's personnel officer, said the county has not had trouble filling lieutenant positions, which are only filled internally. Of the department's 671 sworn positions, 32 are lieutenants.

She said there are only four lieutenants who are paid less than sergeants.

Fulton said lieutenants — who preside over sensitive units such as internal affairs — in the same union as patrol officers would be "an inherent managerial conflict."

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.

Daniel Rodriguez, an Anne Arundel sergeant for the past nine years, said that in the past four promotional cycles he has chosen not to go for a lieutenant position because of the "negative financial implications it would have on my family."

After numerous officers said they felt offended by the notion — mentioned by both Teare and Fulton — that their integrity would be compromised when dealing with less-senior officers if the lieutenants were in the same union with their subordinates, Council Chairman C. Edward Middlebrooks said, "Don't take offense to that because no one on the council really brought that argument."

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