It comes just after city police announced across-the-board cuts in crime not seen in more than two decades. At left, Robert F. Cherry, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 3, speaks at a rally in front of City Hall to complain about the cuts. Police officers and firefighters are behind him (photo by The Sun's Gene Sweeney Jr.).
Here is the full story, with accusations being hurled back and forth by city and union leaders:
Baltimore police officers got what they described as a stunning note accompanying their biweekly paychecks Friday — a memo from City Hall informing them that their pay will be cut by nearly 2 percent over the next six months.
In addition, the officers along with thousands of other city workers were informed that starting Friday, their checks would be reduced $5 per pay period to share the costs of a prescription drug plan to help close a $121 million budget deficit.
While most city workers were prepared for the $5 reductions, police officers are taking a double hit — the cost of drug plan plus the 1.95 percent pay cut. Spread over six months, that last cut means the average officer will see about $205 less in his monthly pay starting Jan. 21.
In November, officers through their labor union overwhelmingly rejected the city's one-year contract offer calling for a 2 percent cut in exchange for an extra five vacation days. The Fraternal Order of Police president, Robert F. Cherry, said he proposed a different, multi-year contract with a temporary pay freeze.
But the mayor's office went to arbitration and won. Now, city leaders say pay cuts for officers that would've been spread out of a year have to compacted into six months. And the five extra vacation days are no longer on the table.
"We could've spread the pain," said an aide to the mayor, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I think the rank-and-file members really deserve better than they got from the union leadership."
In a statement, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she "deeply appreciates the sacrifices every city employee has made to keep the city going, delivering core services during the worst fiscal crisis in the city's modern history and this shared sacrifice has prevented 350 additional layoffs this fiscal year."
Cherry said the city could've renegotiated the contract and called the arbitration "political cover" for the mayor to "unilaterally cut our pay." He said the union did not participate in the arbitration process, calling the process non-binding and the results a foregone conclusion.
Baltimore police are coming off a year in which crime dropped in virtually every category, with 25-year lows in the number of homicides and other violent crime. The mayor and police commissioner have been bragging about the numbers for days.
"Baltimore City will never be safe as long as the mayor continues to show her disrespect to the police," Cherry said. "How do you get on the camera on Monday and talk about drastic reductions in crime and then take away our pay? The only reductions the mayor and the police commissioner aren't talking about is the pay for the police officers, the good guys who take the bad guys with guns off the streets."
Firefighters are taking a similar hit as police. Their union successfully negotiated with the city but pegged their pay cuts to whatever the police got. That meant the 1,700 firefighters will also begin seeing reductions in salary starting Jan. 21. But unlike police, firefighters will get the extra five vacation days.
Other city workers have taken their pay reductions in the form of furloughs — police officers and firefighters cannot take additional days off, so they take pay cuts instead — that City Hall officials say amounts to greater cuts than that of police.
Employees earning less than $30,000 a year are furloughed for four days, roughly a 1.54 percent pay cut. Those earning between $50,000 and $70,000 have to take eight days off without pay, a 3.08 percent salary cut.
Rawlings-Blake, who isn't allowed by law to reduce her salary, has given back to the city the equivalent of 6.73 percent of her pay. Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who earns $194,815 a year, took a 10-day pay cut in fiscal 2010 and plans an 11-day pay cut in fiscal 2011. Members of the police command staff, who are not under union jurisdiction, also have taken pay cuts in lieu of furloughs.
This week, the city's budget director warned that the city faces another shortfall — up to $81 million — and that more cuts might be necessary in the next fiscal year.
The new prescription drug payments will help save the city about $18 million a year and are in addition to co-payments. Up until this month, the city paid 100 percent of drug premiums, while the state kicked in 8-80 percent for its workers. The new plan calls for city employees to contribute about 10 percent of the premiums.
For police, the extra money taken from their paychecks adds up. They have lost a coveted tuition reimbursement plan and are paying more into their pension fund, which also faced dangerous shortfalls last year. Now they're paying more for medicine while getting less money each month.
Bealefeld has repeatedly praised his front-line force with working hard despite budget disputes and distractions over cuts to their pensions.
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun on end-of-year crime statistics, Bealefeld said he didn't "want to miss the chance" to acknowledge the work his cops did during a turbulent year.
"These guys are really the ones that rolled their sleeves up and got down there and did the work," the commissioner said. "They are ones in the trenches. And I think in the face of all the other noise that you hear — and there will be continued discussions and continued work to be done on the budgets and finances and contracts — but at the end of the day, we've got to make the city safer.
"And the fact is that these cops are going out there every day and they're making the city safer," Bealefeld said.