Anne Arundel to hire 100 firefighters in wake of arbitration ruling

County had sought to cover shifts with fewer employees

June 05, 2013|By Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman said Wednesday she'll hire 100 firefighters now that the fire union has won an arbitration case dealing with firefighters' schedules.

Neuman said she'll ask the County Council for $3 million to pay for the new firefighters and add fire training academy classes.

The county had proposed moving firefighters from a "one day on, three days off" schedule to a "one day on, two days off" schedule. Firefighters work 24-hour shifts.

Neuman said in negotiations earlier this year that the county "put an attractive financial package on the table" to try to convince firefighters to agree to the new schedule, but no deal was struck and the issue ended up in arbitration.

"The Fire Department has been clear that they need one day on and three days off," Neuman said.

Craig Oldershaw, president of IAFF Local 1563, said that under the ruling firefighters will continue to work a 42-hour week. The schedule change would have shifted the schedule to a 48-hour week.

He said he's glad Neuman wants the county to hire more firefighters.

"We are profoundly enthusiastic that she's decided to get the Fire Department on the right track and look toward the future," Oldershaw said. "This will not only help the firefighters, but it will help enhance the services to the citizens."

The county had been keeping vacant firefighter positions open in anticipation of moving to the new schedule, which would have required fewer firefighters, Oldershaw said.

County Council Chairman Jerry Walker, a Republican from Gambrills, said council members will look closely at the cost and number of firefighters needed to comply with the arbitrator's decision, which is binding and will last for two years.

Walker said that while he understands firefighter concerns about having fewer rest days, the schedule change would help the county financially.

"The idea was to downsize the personnel number, so long-term we could afford it," Walker said. "But the decision is what it is."

Councilman John Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican, said he thinks the council can find room in the budget to pay for the new firefighters.

“It’s a safety issue,” he said. “I hate to spend $3 million, but at the same token, what’s a life worth?”

Councilman Jamie Benoit, however, expects the county executive to suggest how to come up with the money.

“She’s going to have to find cuts elsewhere in the government to get there. We’ll have to figure out what that looks like,” said Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat.

Council members said the county likely will save some money by paying less in overtime, but it’s not clear yet if it will be enough to cover the $3 million in hiring costs – plus the ongoing future costs of paying firefighters and contributing to their pensions and health care.

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