Anne Arundel County's public safety unions will likely sue the county, labor leaders said Monday, after the County Council failed to override veto action by County Executive John R. Leopold on a bill altering binding arbitration in collective bargaining disputes.
The council voted 4-3 to override three amendments to the bill, which were intended to garner broad support for the bill and ensure the legislation was in accordance with the county charter. The bill — with the amendments — passed unanimously earlier this month and was designed to give the council final say in labor disputes between the county and its public safety employees. Five votes are required to override a veto.
"It has now been clearly established that the elected members of the County Council, not an outside arbitrator, will have final fiscal authority regarding arbitration awards," Leopold said in an emailed statement. "In this era of budgetary austerity, the taxpayers' interest must be paramount."
Once the bill passed unanimously, Leopold announced he would use a line-item veto on the amendments — a rare use of his veto power that enraged union officials and the council's three Democrats, who said they would not have voted for the bill without the amendments..
Craig Oldershaw, president of the county fire department union, said the county's Public Safety Coalition would meet in the next few days and determine how to proceed. He said a lawsuit is likely.
"It's unfortunate that we have to take this route," said Oldershaw. Leopold "took the democratic process and threw it out the window in a power grab, and these three Republican council members had him all-powerful."
Leopold is the subject of an investigation by the state prosecutor's office into whether he improperly used his police security detail to perform campaign work during his re-election campaign last year. He has said that he believes complaints that led to the investigation are "political retribution" for his efforts to change binding arbitration.
Voting to override the vetoes were Jerry Walker, a Republican who introduced the amendments; Jamie Benoit, a Democrat; Chris Trumbauer, a Democrat; Daryl Jones, a Democrat. Voting against the override were Republicans, Richard Ladd, Derek Fink and John J. Grasso.
Before the change, a neutral third party issued opinions when disputes arose, and both the administration and the council were bound by those rulings.
The amendments sought to more clearly state that the administration is bound by the arbitrator's ruling and removal of a provision that would effectively end binding arbitration if the unions successfully argue against an arbitrator's ruling in court.