Baltimore County officials are praising a Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that the county didn't need to hire a third party to settle a 2011 dispute with the police union.
The dispute centered on an incentive program the county started in 2010 to encourage good attendance among employees. If a worker used no sick time for a year, he or she would get money to buy a $100 savings bond and a congratulatory letter from the county executive.
But the program was "only modestly successful," according to county officials, and the savings bond component was ended the next year.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4 contended that ending the program should have been a matter for bargaining with the union, but county officials said they were not required to do so. Among other arguments, the county noted that the program was not part of employees' contract.
Union leaders filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the county's human resources director, but the county refused to appoint an arbitrator to consider it.
The state's highest court agreed with the county that the program was not subject to collective bargaining, saying the union never sought to include it in its contract and the program's "relatively nominal financial incentive aspect" was outside the scope of terms and conditions of employment that must be bargained.
The opinion, issued late last month, reversed decisions in Baltimore County Circuit Court and the Court of Special Appeals.
"We appreciated that the court saw the county's view," County Attorney Mike Field said. "The basic argument that we were making was, this right was never bargained for, so we shouldn't have to bargain to get rid of it."
FOP Second Vice President Dave Rose said the union, which has had a contentious relationship with the county administration in recent years, does not plan to fight the decision.
"Obviously, we weren't happy with it," Rose said. "But it's a very narrow decision regarding a question that we wanted to answer. ... It was specific to this issue."