From: Sheila Ray

Executive director

Association of Community Services of Howard County

The Association of Community Services of Howard County, which is an advocacy organization for human service non-profits in Howard County, wants to acknowledge the ambitious fund-raising project of the Village Merchants, Dobbin Center and The Mall in Columbia.

For those citizens of Howard County not aware, the merchants have joined together to raise $200,000 for The Columbia Foundation, which funds community non-profits.

To date, they have raised over $90,000 with the Hair-Cut-A-Thon and The Mall in Columbia.

All the money they raise will go to an endowment whose income will fund non-profit work for years to come. Weas a community should support their work.

These are the ways you can help:

* Support retailer events like the percent-of-sale days on July 16 and Aug. 20.

* Buy a raffle ticket for the 1991 Corvette ZR-1 displayed in The Mall's Center Court.

* Donate your spare change in the canisters in all the shops.

* Tell your family and friends about this project, which helps Howard County non-profits.

In closing, the Association of Community Services thanks the many merchants who are working on this commendable project. In the face of economic adversity, you are giving us a remarkable gift. Thank you.


From: David R. Etheridge


The following is from a presentation made this month before the Howard County Council about the collective bargaining agreement between the county and the Howard County Police Officers' Association:

Council Bill 100 (in which the council approved changes to the existing employee contracts) isn't what it appears to be. Council Bill 100 should be language contained in a labor agreement which is the result of good faith bargaining. Unfortunately, Council Bill 100 is not!

You see, when the Howard County Police Officers' Association, the union representing the police officers of Howard County, and county officials come together for the purpose of talking about improvements to wages, benefits, and working conditions -- the issues which keep the police officers already employed here content and motivated, and help the county attract qualified persons in becoming a Howard County police officer -- the county has us right where they apparently want us: over theproverbial barrel.

Having personally been involved in negotiatingtwo of the five contracts between the police union and the county, Iknow the union goes into the negotiating process with absolutely no leverage to ensure the county bargains in good faith.

Police officers, by law, can't strike or participate in any job action.

Even if the police union, through a decision rendered by an neutral, professional and mutually acceptable fact-finder can prove the county is being unreasonable with its proposals, as was the case with the contract before you tonight, the county can simply say, "Too bad, take it orleave it."

Then, to further ensure ratification of an otherwise unacceptable contract, the county "reminds" the police officers that if the contract isn't ratified, all of the existing terms and conditions contained in the expiring contract are gone. Which means anything goes.

This isn't representative of good faith collective bargaining. This is collective begging.

Most of us realized these were going to be lean economic times. Not only for the county, but for its employees as well.

In my conversations with fellow police officers, Ibelieve a status quo contract would have been understandable. What you have before you, in Council Bill 100, is neither status quo or understandable.

In this contract, the county has, what it terms, "suspended" longevity steps. While the county contends this "suspension" is due to budgetary considerations, our chief negotiator, Bill Thompson, advised us that a fact-finder, Seymour Strongin, and he were toldby County Executive (Charles I.) Ecker that he (Ecker) does not believe in the longevity concept. (See editor's note.)

I recently received a letter from Councilman (Darrel) Drown, R-2nd) in reply to a correspondence I sent to him. In that letter, Mr. Drown said he approached Mr. Ecker about the longevity issue and was told that the "suspension" of longevity was indeed due to financial considerations.

Yet, in a side letter attached to the recent firefighters' contract, thecounty has agreed to make overtime funds available to those firefighters who will realize a net base pay loss as a result of the "suspended" longevity.

As you can see in this agreement with the firefighters, this guaranteed overtime is made available to the affected firefighters on any of his/her Kelly days -- Kelly days being their regular days off -- and not just in times of staffing needs.

The point I'm making: If the county has the funds to make non-essential overtimemoney available to the firefighters, thus forcing them to work more to make the same, then apparently the funds were there to leave the longevity steps alone in the first place.

In addition . . . this year, police officers will be paying more for the same, or less, healthcoverage than they currently have.

For many police officers, thiscontract represents a significant diminishment in both pay and benefits.

For the most senior officers, we are talking about an approximate adjusted gross loss of nearly 20 percent. Twenty percent is derived from the 5 percent lost from longevity, 2 1/2 percent merit increases, 6 percent estimated regional inflation rate, 6 1/2 percent average in increased employee contribution to their health care coverage.

For example, my annual base pay yesterday, June 30, was $38,180. Today, July 1, my annual salary is $36,362. My hourly rate of pay, aswell as my overtime rate of pay, have been significantly reduced.

Additionally, this contract will have profound long-term ramifications. For instance, since our base pay is the bottom-line factoring mechanism for determining both the amounts of our retirement fund contributions, as well as our final retirement benefits, a lower base pay results in smaller contributions, thus, smaller retirement benefits years down the road.

Many officers are wondering if the county, during these contract talks, purposely and systematically targeted the older, higher salaried police officers.

Under less than ideal circumstances, this contract was ratified. But barely!

Like the teachers, we feel we have had our trust in the county, as well as our faith in the process called collective bargaining, thrown in our collective faces. To my knowledge, our union has never entered negotiations withthe intention, or desire, of creating a situation where the tail wags the dog.

But the days of us being treated like a fire hydrant atthe bargaining table have to end.

The citizens need not worry, however, about the quality of law enforcement and community service they receive from their police officers.

For you see, this county hasa great bunch of men and women in uniform that truly care about the citizens and their families. But dear council members, your police officers are being pushed into a corner.

Our job is tough, and it's getting tougher and more dangerous every day. This contract will certainly force many more police officers to leave their families to worka second job providing security at some used car lot or fast food joint. The collective begging has to end.

As a means to that end, I encourage the council to introduce legislation which would allow bothparties involved in the collective bargaining process to participateon a level field.

Contractual binding arbitration legislation will do just that. Binding arbitration is an effective, inexpensive means to ensure that one side is not getting, and maintaining, a significant advantage over its negotiating counterpart.

If you remember, the voting citizens of Howard County overwhelmingly approved the collective bargaining referendum question in the mid-1980s. I'm certain that it was their intent, as it was our hope, that collective bargaining would be a fair, equitable, and mutually beneficial process for both labor and management.

Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

I sincerely hope legislation is introduced which will end the practice of one-side negotiations before things get worse.

Editor's note: The writer is an 18-year veteran of the Howard County Police Department, was president of the Howard County Police Officers' Association, 1987-89, and president of the Maryland Conference of Police and Sheriffs, 1989-1990.

Contacted last week, Ecker told The Howard County Sun that "I sure do" believe in the concept of granting longevity raises, but said the county faces an economic hardship this year. "I think they should be restored -- hopefully next year. I don't thinkwe can freeze salaries two years in a row," he said.

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