After narrowly escaping layoffs and facing an uncertain future, county police sergeants have formed a union they say could give them job security and collective bargaining rights.
The newly formed union -- the Anne Arundel County Sergeants Association Local 123 -- has been approved for membership into the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA), an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, said Sam Cabral, IUPA'ssecretary/treasurer.
The union, which already counts about 35 members from among the department's 75 sergeants, appointed four temporary officers at its first meeting, Jan. 8, said president Sgt. Dale Thomas of the Eastern District station. Officials plan to set a date for formal elections ata meeting Feb. 26.
County police patrolman are represented by theFraternal Order of Police (FOP) Union Lodge 70 and are under a formal contract with the county. The new sergeants union has not been recognized by the county as a collective bargaining unit, however.
In the meantime, 21 of the sergeants have hired Washington attorney Michael Leibig and are threatening to file a lawsuit to force the county to pay them for overtime, retroactive to two years. Currently, policesergeants are salaried employees and receive no overtime because they are considered management.
"We want a contract to protect us," Thomas said.
Leibig has written to county officials, contending that federal law require overtime pay for the sergeants. Louise Hayman, a spokeswoman for County Executive Robert R. Neall, said county attorneys will respond to Leibig in February.
Leibig cited previous court rulings that have awarded sergeants in Howard County back pay up to two years totaling about $85,000 and Washington, D.C., sergeants back pay totaling approximately $100,000.
Leibig estimates that it could cost the county between $2,000 and $12,000 per sergeant in back pay, depending on what unit the sergeant works in.
"We are not looking to take this to federal court," Thomas said. "We are looking to make a settlement."
Last month, Thomas, who has been a police officer for 22 years, filed a grievance with the county to get paid for one hour of overtime. The county refused to pay.
"It was just to raise the issue and see where the county would stand," he said.
Union vice president Sgt. Dennis O'Toole, a Western District station narcotics investigator, said he often ends up putting in long hours during drug operations.
"I have worked a lot more than 40 hours a week," he said. "It's call-out time and often on regular days off."
In October, faced with large state budget cuts, County Executive Robert R. Neall asked police officers to take a wage cut to prevent the layoff of 15 officers. The FOP, which represents patrol officers, reluctantly agreed, choosing to take five days of furloughs.
Supervisors -- sergeants and those of higher rank -- also were furloughed for five days without pay, without the ability to bargain with the county.
The sergeants are concerned that future county budget woes might leave them vulnerable to layoffs.
"We have been approached by some lieutenants (who) may be interested in joining us," Thomas said.
IUPA is a national organization with about 250 locals and 30,000 members, Cabral said. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is the largest local with 3,000 members.