Pension bill opposed by unions stalls in Baltimore Co. Council

A bill from Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz that could have reduced some workers' pensions stalled in the County Council Monday after pressure from unions that complained the bill undermined labor rights.

The 4-3 vote to table the legislation came after union members and state labor leaders rallied outside the county courthouse, saying the bill sidestepped contract negotiations for members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The bill would have stopped AFSCME members from using overtime in their pension calculations, which they have done for more than 30 years.

Council members who voted to table the legislation said they agreed with the Kamenetz administration that using overtime to calculate pensions was not prudent but believed that it was a labor-negotiation issue.

"We are not saying we approve the practice," said Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat. "We don't. But we are saying that we don't approve the process" the administration sought.

They hope the county can work out the issue with the union.

Tabling the bill "gives the administration a chance to answer our questions and bring it back if they so desire," Almond said. "This gives [the union and administration] time to fix this. To me, it's their job to fix it, not ours."

In addition, she said council members still had many questions about the legislation but hadn't gotten the answers they needed from the administration.

Almond voted with three others to table the bill: David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican; Kenneth Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat; and Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat. Those who voted against tabling were: Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat; Todd Huff, a Lutherville Republican; and John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat.

AFSCME is the only union in the county whose members' overtime is reflected in their pensions. The union represents about 800 workers in the Department of Public Works, Department of Parks and Recreation and other agencies.

After the vote, AFSCME Local 921 President Norman Anderson said the union would try to address the issue in negotiations. "I'm happy that we're going back to the table, hopefully," he said.

Administration officials say they have tried for at least five years to eliminate the practice through negotiations.

"The administration's going to continue to work to save taxpayer dollars and to ensure a pension system for our employees that's sustainable," said Don Mohler, Kamenetz's chief of staff. "Tonight's vote makes it harder to do that."

Mohler did not say what the administration's next step would be.

The administration originally said the bill would save more than $500,000 a year but revised that projection to $368,000. The county auditor's office estimated an annual savings of $200,000.

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