City police union to vote Thursday on new contract

Members of the city's police union are set to vote Thursday on a contract that would give them five more days off in exchange for a 1.95 percent pay cut.

The Fraternal Order of Police and the city negotiated the pact through a mediator after a measure that would have granted the union binding arbitration died in the General Assembly after opposition from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

"We're still very upset that the mayor personally lobbied city lawmakers on that issue," union President Robert F. Cherry said.

Rawlings-Blake said that city officials "came to the table in good faith and made agreements that we can afford."

"I hope that the contract is ratified and we can move forward," she said.

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 hacked $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.

Last year, the union spent months negotiating a contract with the city, and grudgingly accepted five de facto furlough days along with schedule changes they had long sought.

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

The police and fire unions filed a federal lawsuit against the city, alleging 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.

The unions have ratcheted up political pressure on Rawlings-Blake and City Council members since then, picketing fundraisers and posting negative billboards.

The union vote is slated to run from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the union lodge in Hampden.

An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of savings projected to result from changes this year to Baltimore's public safety pension plan. The changes are expected to save the city $65 million. The Sun regrets the error.