By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun
6:26 PM EST, February 14, 2013
Anne Arundel County officials say they will appeal an arbitrator's decision that the county must give deputy sheriffs pay raises from 2009 that were negotiated in their contract — but which the county cut, saying it needed help to solve a budget crunch.
"We feel that the arbitrator did not get it right," said John Hammond, acting county executive, who added that the county will file for judicial review in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.
Last month, arbitrator Andrew M. Strongin found in favor of the deputies, saying the administration punished the union in a 2009 dispute when it held back the raises. At issue is a 3 percent cost-of-living increase and a 4 percent merit raise for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the final year of a three-year contract, plus back pay and interest.
In 2009, citing a bleak economic outlook, the administration asked unions to sign off on a 3 percent raise only for the 2010 fiscal year. John R. Leopold, who recently resigned after being found guilty of misconduct unrelated to this dispute, was the county executive at the time.
The other unions agreed to the request, but the deputies, who had won the total 7 percent package for that year in a contract that began in July 2007, did not.
When Leopold sent his budget proposal to the County Council in the spring of 2009, it did not include a raise for the deputies.
The deputies' challenge wound up in the Court of Special Appeals, where a judicial panel ruled in favor of the deputies — and the dispute went to the arbitrator.
The arbitrator said Leopold used the budget process, which bars the council from increasing the budget beyond the executive's submission, to ensure the deputies would not receive a raise.
Estimates of how much the full 7 percent raise would have cost that year range from about $110,000 to $150,000. David Belisle, shop steward for the deputies, said how much each deputy would have received varied, depending on where each was in the pay scale. Hammond estimated the amount could now be $600,000, based on back pay and interest.
But he said the stakes could be several times higher, pointing to a dozen county employee unions that could make similar arguments if the deputies' decision stands.
"Do you think that the other bargaining units won't take notice of that?" Hammond said.
About five unions dealing with county employees are larger than the 58-employee Teamsters local that represents the deputies.
Belisle said he believes the arbitrator's ruling is fair.
"They were punishing us. Four judges and an arbitrator, and now they want a fifth judge to tell them?" said Belisle. He said the arbitrator "saw right through" the county's contentions.
"We were doing the best that we could do in a very difficult economic situation," said Hammond, later adding, "We were not being punitive."
In the decision, the arbitrator said he would have been inclined to cap the raise at the same 3 percent that other unions received, but the county did not make a "persuasive demonstration" that it couldn't pay the full 7 percent increase that had been negotiated.
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