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Baltimore Co. AFSCME members rally against Kamenetz

A Baltimore County union representing about 800 public employees filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the county Thursday, asking for an independent investigation after working for five months without a contract.

Members of Local 921 of the American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees have been without a contract since July and say the county administration has not negotiated in good faith to reach an agreement. The union's members include heavy-equipment operators, truck and snowplow drivers, and sewage workers.

Dozens of AFSMCE members and statewide labor leaders gathered outside the county courthouse in Towson after they filed the complaint, chanting underneath a giant inflatable rat on which they hung photos of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. The union filed a lawsuit last month seeking arbitration. The Thursday filing asks the county labor commissioner to appoint a third party to investigate the union's complaints that the county is not honoring terms of its expired contract.

"This has been a long dispute with the county, and we need to push on what available avenues we have," AFSCME Council 67 staff representative Ryan Genovese said.

Don Mohler, Kamenetz's chief of staff, said the administration believes union members would approve the county's offer, which he said was a multiyear deal that included scheduled raises and a guarantee of no furloughs or layoffs.

"This is an instance where the leadership is detached from its membership," Mohler said of the union. "This county executive has worked day and night to protect workers in Baltimore County. Every step we've taken is to try to guarantee their benefits and protect their pensions."

The dispute centers on the union's desire for a clause that would make the contract automatically renew if a deal hasn't been made when a current agreement expires. Its contract has long included that provision, and union members believe that means the terms of the most recent deal should still be in effect.

Local 921 President Norman Anderson said the two sides had come to an agreement this summer. But the county then told the union it wanted to remove the evergreen clause, he said.

"We've given them additional time to try to work things quietly out," Anderson said. "After eight months of negotiations, when we thought we had an agreement, they added a new twist to the mix."

Without the evergreen language, workers "are stuck in a take-it-or-leave it position," said Genovese.

The union's complaint states that this summer, the county "began to implement unilateral changes and to ignore the obligations of [the contract] and to ignore established practices." For instance, the county revoked Anderson's full-time union leave and stopped using the employees' overtime to calculate pension benefits, according to the complaint.

Additionally, the county has been filling positions with employees who work 39 hours a week and cannot join the union, Genovese said.

The county has reached labor agreements with the other five unions that represent county workers, Mohler said.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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