Firefighters union vows to sue the city on proposed freeze


Although Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is depending on a wage freeze for municipal employees to balance the upcoming budget, none of the city unions has yet formally agreed to give up their negotiated pay raises and one is even planning a lawsuit to protect a raise awarded to its members by an arbitrator.

"We'll sue the bastards" rather than accept a pay freeze, said Jeffrey A. DeLisle, president of the Baltimore Firefighters Local 734.

Mr. DeLisle said lawyers are preparing a challenge of the pay freeze for his union and for the Baltimore Fire Officers Association Local 964. He said the two unions represent about 2,000 Fire Department employees.

Budget officials, legally required to present a balanced budget in the face of disappointing revenue and escalating costs, are counting on $38 million in savings through a wage freeze for all of the city's 28,000 employees.

Without the freeze, some 2,000 employees would lose their jobs and services would be disrupted, according to Mayor Schmoke.

But Mr. DeLisle said the city does not have the right to withhold a 6 percent pay increase his workers are scheduled to receive July 1, because the increase was the result of the city and the union submitting to binding arbitration last year.

Mr. DeLisle, who declined to say when a suit would be filed, said: "We have a battle plan. We will be filing a lawsuit according to that."

Jesse E. Hoskins, the city's acting labor commissioner, said he will be meeting with union leaders next week in an effort to hammer out agreements under which the unions formally agree to forgo negotiated pay increases scheduled to go into effect July 1.

"We don't have any signings as of yet," Mr. Hoskins said. "But the folks I've talked to are generally understanding. There has been a very good dialogue."

At least some union leaders are seeking agreements with the city under which they would recover the lost wages in future years.

Cheryl Boykins Glenn, president of the 5,300-member City Union of Baltimore, said that although her union members are willing to do without a raise this year to spare fellow workers from layoffs, she would insist on winning an agreement under which the city would restore the lost wages.

"We won't be giving anything up anything," said Ms. Glenn, who declined to elaborate on her union's negotiating position.

In March, when Mr. Schmoke announced his intention to seek a pay freeze, he said he would try to negotiate an agreement with city union leaders under which their membership would recoup their lost wages when the city's financial picture improved.

Employees in eight of the 12 unions representing city workers are scheduled to receive pay increases this year. Of the four other unions, two representing police officers are nearing the end of their contracts and are negotiating new contracts and two other unions, representing teachers and education professionals, are negotiating pay raises under a reopener clause.

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