Baltimore City

Police union overwhelmingly rejects contract

The Baltimore police union voted overwhelmingly Thursday to reject a one-year contract that would have reduced wages by nearly 2 percent in exchange for five additional vacation days.

Ninety-five percent of the members of the Fraternal Order of Police voted against the proposal; they were angered by pay cuts coming on the heels of an overhaul of the public safety pension system implemented by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, union president Robert F. Cherry said.

"It's not just a rejection of the city's best offer," said Cherry. "It's a rejection of the mayor and her inability to respect what these men and women do for the city every day and every night." In an e-mailed statement, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake said she was "disappointed but confident we can come to an agreement."

The mayor "is grateful that city employees understand that this economy has affected everyone," said spokesman Ryan O'Doherty. "The men and women of Baltimore Police Department have made tough sacrifices and continue to do their jobs even during tough times."

But Cherry said that union members feel that Rawlings-Blake brags of historic drops in crime rates without rewarding them for their work.

The vote "speaks volumes about how the men and women of this department feel about how they've been treated," said Cherry. "What they're asking for from the mayor tonight is to recognize them for their hard work and sacrifices. They're out there risking their lives every day and night."

A spokesman said Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III vowed not to let public safety suffer.

Bealefeld "is going to remain focused on being sure the men and women of the Police Department will continue to give 110 percent effort," said spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. "He is optimistic some kind of agreement can be reached and, in the meantime, crime is not going to take over."

The 1.95 percent cut represents five days of pay, the functional equivalent of a furlough. Nearly all city employees have received five or more furlough days. The city trimmed $70 million from its $1.2 billion budget for the current fiscal year and added $50 million in new taxes to make up for declining tax revenue and state aid.

The previous one-year contract expired June 30 and was extended. Last year, the union spent months negotiating a contract with the city, and grudgingly accepted five de facto furlough days along with schedule changes it had long sought.

City and police officials will now resume discussions with a mediator to try to craft an alternative proposal to cover the union's 2,800 active and 2,200 retired members.

"At a minimum, what they're trying to say to the city is don't take any of our money and maybe what we really need is a reward for our work going forward," said Cherry.

The relationship between the union and Rawlings-Blake soured over the summer after the mayor pushed through an overhaul of the beleaguered pension system. Officials say the changes will save the city $65 million.

The police and fire unions filed a federal lawsuit against the city, contending that officials willfully and knowingly underfunded the pension for a decade and claiming that the pension changes violate their contracts. The suit is slated for trial in March.