Anne Arundel County fire union wins arbitration dispute

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

Anne Arundel County firefighters will reach their maximum salary faster and get higher raises but lose allowances after an independent arbitrator sided with firefighters Wednesday.

The union and the county had not been able to agree on a contract.

The two-year agreement implements a step scale system that shortens how long it takes firefighters to reach maximum salary and includes a 4-percent increase between those steps. The pay scale will be implemented over a two-year period.

The union offered to remove two yearly allowances for special training and EMT certification. Employees on the top step of their pay grade by June 30 will retain those allowances.

“I view Anne Arundel County as one of the wealthiest counties in the state, and very much able to afford the union’s (last, best and final offer),” arbitrator William Lowe wrote in his decision. “All these factors cause me to find in favor of the union.”

This marks the fifth consecutive dispute dating to fiscal 2012. In 2016, an independent arbitrator sided with the union against the county. This decision established the step scale system modified in the new agreement. The county won the contract dispute in 2015.

The Anne Arundel County Fire Department is represented by the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1563.

“We are happy that after reviewing all of the facts, the arbitrator came to the right decision,” union president Joe Addivinola said in a statement. “We just hope County Executive Schuh does not once again retaliate against his citizens by cutting positions from the budget like he did two years ago.”

The county’s final offer was a one-year agreement that included a 2 percent cost-of-living raise, 3-percent step increases and a minimum 10-percent increase for employees who increase proficiencies or make lieutenant. The county’s offer also didn’t include reducing allowances. It didn’t shorten the number of steps to achieve maximum salary.

The decision is estimated to cost about $4 million, most of which will come from the county’s fiscal 2020 budget.

The county will abide by the decision, said Owen McEvoy, spokesman for County Executive Steve Schuh.

“We proposed a raise, and they proposed a raise,” McEvoy said. “We look forward to working with the fire union.”

A major component of Lowe’s opinion was to bring mid-level firefighters pay up in comparison to other major departments in the region. He concluded that a bulk of firefighters on the path to maximum salary would have lower pay than all county departments except for Baltimore City. The 2016 decision somewhat eliminated this pay disparity or “sag.”

The pay should be adjusted again to make those salaries more competitive with other departments, Lowe wrote. “I believe the union’s proposals will compress the salary scale, reduce the number of steps and raise the pay of mid-level employees thus reducing, or hopefully, eliminating the sag.”

Schuh has said he plans to increase the county’s firefighter staff by 120 in the next four years — if he is re-elected. It is unclear how the contract decision will affect those plans.

After the union won the contract dispute in 2016, Schuh declined federal funding to hire 52 firefighters. Accepting the grant would have lead to a “cliff” and the county couldn’t afford to add so many firefighters, McEvoy said in 2016.

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