Anne Arundel councilman wants no more unions

When county park rangers decided to form a union of 14 people this year, Anne Arundel County Councilman Jerry Walker decided he had reached his limit.

Thirteen unions, he said, are more than enough.

"At this point, any nine, 10 or 11 people could get together and decide to bargain collectively with the county," said Walker, a Republican from Gambrills. "We've got three groups just for the police. Why should we sit down with three government groups when we could sit down with one?"

A bill sponsored by Walker is pending before the council and would prevent county employees from forming more unions. The three largest unions in the county's workforce of 4,000 each represent 500 workers or more. The three smallest represent 17 battalion chiefs, 14 park rangers and eight sheriff's sergeants, respectively.

The county has cut 70 jobs in the past year as Anne Arundel, like jurisdictions across the country, struggled to provide services in the weak economy. This year was the first in several years that workers have not been forced to take unpaid leave to help balance the budget.

Public safety unions, frustrated by the administration's move to curb their negotiating power, have filed two lawsuits against the county. The first accuses the government of unlawfully taking away the unions' right to have an independent arbitrator issue a final ruling in a dispute. The second, filed in July, asks a judge to grant raises that an independent arbitrator approved but the county did not fund.

County law prohibits most managers from joining unions of the employees they supervise. The rule, county officials have said, gave rise to some of the small unions.

A representative from Teamsters Local 355, which represents park rangers, declined to comment on why the group sought to form a union.

Chief Administrative Officer John Hammond, who for more than a decade served as the county's budget officer, said the number of unions makes it "very challenging" to put together a budget. Until this year, each of the police unions had a different pension contribution deal with the county, he said.

"Clearly, one of the primary concerns is the amount of time that it takes to deal with 13 different unions, particularly those that are involved with binding arbitration," Hammond said. "Each case involves a great deal of preparation and argument time. ... If we're making a decision, it's the same if you've got 12 members or 700 members."

Alan Friedman, the county's director of government relations, said the administration planned to review the legislation before taking a position. A public hearing is scheduled Oct. 15.

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