Earlier this year, Baltimore County promised job security through 2014 for members of three public employee unions, but county officials say they can't make the same guarantee for other labor groups.
The Kamenetz administration is in talks with the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees, the police union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, whose contracts expire in June. Together, the unions represent about 4,300 employees, more than half the county's workforce.
"These are extremely challenging economic times," said Don Mohler, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's chief of staff. "In the past, we've been able to state unequivocally that there would be no layoffs or furloughs for any employees. We are not in the position of making that same statement now … given the state of the economy."
Mohler noted "sluggish growth" and said county revenues are not keeping up with expenditures.
John Ripley, president of the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees, said it would be irresponsible not to offer job security to the unions now in negotiations. His group represents 1,650 workers, including corrections officers and 911 dispatchers.
"How would you fairly furlough three groups and not all groups?" he asked.
In June, Kamenetz announced that the county had reached agreements with unions representing firefighters and sheriff's employees to extend their contracts through June 2014. The contract extensions guaranteed that members would not be laid off or furloughed, but those hired after July 1 must contribute more to their pensions.
The contracts gave no cost-of-living increases through 2014.
The county's public health nurses union later reached an agreement with the county, and members were also promised job security through June 2014.
Cole Weston, president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, said he could not comment in detail on Mohler's remarks because negotiations are not in full swing.
"The negotiation process will be more fluid after the first of the year, and we'll know more about where the county's position is," he said. "All kinds of things could be put on and taken off the table."
Ripley said his union has been discussing a contract extension with the county since April.
"I'm not aware of anything economically that has changed that drastically from April until now," he said. "Until we reach a tentative agreement, nothing's a guarantee. But it would be absolutely irresponsible to balance a county budget on three employee groups, if furlough days are needed."
A representative of AFSCME did not return messages this week.