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County, police miss contract deadline


Police officers will go to work July 1 without a contract because their union and the county failed to reach a new agreement by Friday's deadline.

Meeting the deadline would have given the County Council just enough time to consider and approve a new contract before the current one expires June 30.

Supporters of police officers protested the stalemate for two days last week in front of the Howard government building in Ellicott City. About 20 wives, children and friends of officers picketed and chanted at noon each day to protest what they consider unfair treatment of the police union by County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

Contract talks began in November but stalled two months ago, primarily over the date merit pay raises will be issued. The union had wanted officers to receive them July 1, saying they've had no pay raises for two years. But Ecker wants the raises to be given on each officer's anniversary date.

"We want a settlement soon," said County Administrator Raquel Sanudo. "Hopefully there will be a signed contract."

If no agreement is reached, police will work under the county code, which dictates work conditions for county employees. Union president Dale Hill said officers probably won't lose health benefits, but veteran police might lose an annual leave day.

During the protests, some held signs with such slogans as "Your police officers deserve fair treatment" and "We've waited long enough."

Melody Suggs, whose husband is an 18-year veteran, wants the county executive to know that the date he gives merit pay raises affects many families who have been living on shoestring budgets.

"I'm hoping Mr. Ecker can see a lot more is involved," she said. "We can barely get by paycheck to paycheck."

Her 6-year-old son, Tony, carried a sign that read, "Treat our Moms and Dads fairly."

Other spouses said getting by has been hard. Like other county employees, officers didn't get pay raises last year and suffered a 2 percent pay loss because of a five-day unpaid furlough.

"My husband works three jobs to support us," said Kim Vichich, a laid-off insurance claims adjuster. "We have four kids. We need a bigger house. His salary doesn't even qualify for a loan."

Jim Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, came to show his support and criticized the county for not accepting the union's demands.

"It's another indication that the county executive and some members of the County Council have continued to show indifference to public and school employees in this county," he said. "We find it appalling that the county executive will not even accept the non-bias decision of the arbitrator. It's wrong."

An independent mediator had recommended police officers get pay raises July 1, citing they didn't get pay raises for two years.

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