Just days after it appeared all Harford County employees would get the half of the $1,250 bonuses proposed for them for before Christmas, there's been a big change.
Until some legal issues raised by a last-minute change in tactics by the leadership of the union representing teachers and some other school employees are resolved, those represented by the Harford County Education Association will not get the bonuses.
All other county employees, the other eight of the nine unions representing those working for the county, will get their bonuses as scheduled and approved.
The glitch, according to Harford County Executive David R. Craig, is the HCEA leadership has chosen to use the approval of the one-time bonuses as a way to reopen salary negotiations with the Harford County Board of Education and try to turn the one-time gifts into part of the base salary of employees. To keep that from happening, Craig has vetoed the line item amendment passed Tuesday by the Harford County Council that would require the money be transferred to the school system for disbursement. The rest of the legislation clearing the way for the bonuses to all other county employees is intact.
Craig said Friday morning that he's disappointed that a good faith effort to reward teachers and other members of the HCEA has been turned into such a mess that might keep deserving employees from getting bonuses. The union maneuver and Craig's veto affects about 5,500 employees, according to Craig.
"HCEA's attempt to hijack this fund appropriation to support its case before the Maryland Public School Labor Relations Board in an effort to secure the unfunded recurring salary increase previously negotiated with the Board of Education places the county in a financially unsustainable position that I cannot support at this time," Craig said in a press statement issued Friday morning.
The timeline for resolving the issue and possibly reversing this latest development is unclear. Craig said he would wait until labor issues involving the teachers' unions last contract are resolved until deciding whether to reintroduce the funding legislation.
"As a 34 year educator and a former member of HCEA, I am deeply disappointed in its leadership and their efforts to co-opt this legislation," added Craig, who noted that all county employees and sheriff's and library employees will still get the $625 bonus last week.
County Council President Billy Boniface said Friday he agreed completely with the county executive, and council attorney Charles Kearney told him Craig is within his right to veto the line item.
Craig has 21 days to send a message to the council, after which the council can consider overriding the veto during its next legislative meeting on Jan. 3, Boniface said.
The council would need five votes to override the veto, he said.
"I spoke to [Craig] last night and he said he was concerned about the fact that we were misled. I agreed with him," Boniface said. "It was my understanding that HCEA would be signing the [memorandum of understanding for the bonuses] after we passed the bill the other night."
"They reneged on what they said they would do," he said. "[Craig] was concerned and said that was unacceptable."
Boniface said he has not heard from HCEA since the council meeting.
"I do support the county executive in that it was everybody's understanding that they would sign the MOU after we passed that legislation," he said.
Randy Cerveny, president of HCEA, was not immediately available early Friday afternoon because he was at a labor board meeting that morning.
Craig said at about the same time that Cerveny had contacted him earlier only to ask for a copy of the veto.
The county executive said he regrets that he tried to reach out to all unions, and "one of them was not collaborative and cooperative. Unfortunately that has pulled down four other unions."
Money approved earlier this week
The County Council approved the first portion of the bonus late Tuesday evening, but not before passing a number of amendments.
"It allows the county executive to move forward on his proposal with his payment, as you want to call it now, with the first installment [in December] but before moving forward with what he projects [in June] … we ask that he present to us another transfer request at that time that the budget is in front of us so we can see what budget impact if any this has on us," Boniface said.
He added he wants to "ensure we don't have to increase the tax burden on our constituents."
Councilman Chad Shrodes abstained from the entire vote because he said his wife is a Harford County Public Library employee.
Councilman Dion Guthrie abstained from the first set of amendments, which dealt with the delay of payment, because he said he wanted to see the employees get their bonus as quickly as possible.
Other amendments also changed the wording in the bill from "one-time bonus" to "payment."
Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti said those amendments were the result of intense negotiation with unions and will allow all teachers to receive their bonuses.
Randy Cerveny, of the Harford County Education Association, thanked the council for the move.
"Thank you for all the work you've done to make sure all Harford educators benefit from the county surplus," he said.
Check back with http://www.exploreharford.com for updates on this continuing story.