All parties 'on the same page' on collective bargaining for Harford deputies, union says

Harford County deputy sheriffs unions, the county executive, sheriff and state legislators are all “on the same page” in support of collective bargaining legislation ahead of the 2018 Maryland General Assembly session, a union leader said Wednesday.

“Last year [when] we came before you, we were in the middle of an uphill battle . . . we’re all on the same page now,” Sgt. Mike Montalvo, president of the Harford County Deputy Sheriff’s Union told members of the Harford legislative delegation during a pre-session meeting held at the Abingdon Library.

Montalvo was accompanied by the union’s vice president, Sgt. Aaron Penman, as he spoke to the legislators.

Harford legislators have already pre-filed bills in the House of Delegates and Maryland Senate, according to Republican Del. Teresa Reilly, head of the county’s House delegation.

Delegates and senators heard from representatives of multiple county and municipal institutions throughout the day Wednesday. The delegation hosts a pre-session meeting each year to hear the wants and needs of local government and other constituent organizations before the start of the session in January.

Montalvo thanked all parties for their “hard work” on getting to the current point.

“Thank you for your hard work,” Reilly replied.

Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler and County Executive Barry Glassman both expressed their support for deputies collective bargaining legislation Wednesday.

A memorandum of understanding between the unions representing law enforcement deputies and corrections deputies, the county executive and sheriff that allows negotiations on salaries and benefits is already in place.

The sheriff and the county executive signed the MOU with the Deputy Sheriff’s Union and the Harford County Correctional Association, the corrections deputies’ union, in late September.

The MOU allows “nonbinding negotiations” on pay and employees’ share of health insurance benefit payments, according to a Sept. 29 news release from the county.

The agreement came about after legislation filed during the 2017 General Assembly session failed to pass by the end of the session in April. The deputies unions had been seeking collective bargaining with binding arbitration to ensure they could obtain full county funding for their annual salary steps, or contractually-obligated salary increases, as well as benefits and retirement.

The unions spent 2016 pursuing a county charter amendment and later enabling legislation at the state level because the Sheriff’s Office is considered a state agency under law, even though its operational funding is provided by the county.

Binding arbitration, which would allow an outside arbitrator to issue a ruling that would be binding upon all parties if the unions and county could not reach an agreement, had little support in Annapolis or among county leaders.

The unions and the delegation eventually settled on legislation only for collective bargaining, but it too ran into trouble during the 2017 General Assembly session.

Republican Del. Rick Impallaria and Democratic Del. Mary Ann Lisanti introduced House Bill 1431 in February, and it later became a delegation bill sponsored by all eight Harford delegates.

The House passed the initial version, and it moved to the Senate. The Senate passed an amended version, but it did not come back to the House for a final vote before the General Assembly adjourned April 10.

Reilly said the legislation that has been pre-filed for January is the “exact same bill” that was introduced last year. Bill numbers have not been assigned yet.

“It should fly through, hopefully,” she said after the meeting broke for lunch Wednesday. “That’s the intent.”

The current MOU is similar to the proposed legislation on collective bargaining, according to Montalvo. He said the county level agreement will remain in place even if state legislation does not pass in Annapolis.

“The county executive said that he would work with us and do the MOU, and he’s held true to his word,” Montalvo said.

Unions represent hourly and salaried county government employees, which is permitted by the county charter; however, there are no binding arbitration provisions for settling contract impasses and those unions do not have the right to strike.

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