2 unions to vote tonight on pacts Blue-collar workers, police to decide on city's 2% raise offer


Members of two Annapolis unions are to vote tonight on whether to end five months of contentious contract negotiations and accept the city's offer of a 2 percent pay raise.

While officials of the unit of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that represents blue-collar workers say its members are on the verge of accepting the proposal, it was not clear what action the Annapolis police union would take.

Claiming that Annapolis Police Department officers make less than their peers in comparable jurisdictions, police union officials have stuck by their demands for a 4 percent raise and better retirement benefits.

Union officials say those contract improvements would help the department curb the number of officers leaving for greener pastures.

"Annapolis needs to take steps to be competitive with surrounding departments if they have any intention of hiring and retaining good officers," said Officer John Lee, a shop steward for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, which represents 80 of the city's 125 police officers.

"With the constant turnover rate that Annapolis has, the city is constantly replacing those officers with new and inexperienced ones," Lee said. "I'd be more concerned for what it means to the public, because they deserve some level of expertise from the patrol unit when they are having a problem."

Moves to county

Citing department statistics, union officials say the Annapolis department lost 57 officers for reasons varying from termination to moves to other police departments in the past seven years.

Last year, seven of 10 officers who left the force joined the Anne Arundel County Police Department, where salaries run about $1,000 higher. This year, 10 city officers have applied to the county force.

The extent of dissatisfaction on the Annapolis force is uncertain.

In a survey taken this year by the police union, with responses from 65 of the 80 members, almost half circled three or higher -- on a scale of one to five with five being the most positive -- on whether they "have given serious thought to seeking employment with another agency within the last year."

But 81 percent also circled three or higher when asked about their "willingness to recommend APD over other agencies to a prospective candidate." And about 65 percent circled three or higher when asked to rate morale within the department.

Plenty of applicants

Chief Joseph S. Johnson dismissed the union argument of salary dissatisfaction as the reason for turnover. He said that it is in the nature of small departments for their officers to move.

Small police departments lose officers to other forces often, he said, but the Annapolis salary is enough to attract many applicants every year.

"We've got 150 applications this year," Johnson said. "We're trying to fill four vacancies. Some are new recruits. Some have experience with other departments."

Better pay, benefits and amenities are available at larger police departments.

Prince George's County, for example, has placed fliers on patrol cars in other jurisdictions. The fliers boast take-home patrol cars, an annual $925 uniform allowance, a 20-year retirement plan at 60 percent of annual salary, and 13 days of leave time and 15 days of sick leave in the first year.

Officials at bigger departments caution that officers moving is an issue every force faces.

Federal agencies

"We've had some folks leave for other departments," said Sgt. Kevin B. Novak, a Baltimore County police spokesman. "We've had some officers leave for federal agencies. Every agency's goal is to attract and retain qualified people, and we find we're competing with the same agencies in the area for these qualified people."

Even so, Annapolis police union officials say officers' salaries are lower than those of smaller departments.

According to a study last year, a private in Annapolis -- the lowest rank -- earned a minimum of $26,770 a year. That private's counterpart in Laurel received $27,509; in Rockville, $30,787; Takoma Park, $28,007; and Gaithersburg, $28,983. Officers in Greenbelt and Hyattsville made less.

Annapolis officers also fell behind their peers in most of those cities in peak salary, currently $41,255 a year. The number of years of experience needed to reach top scale varied among the departments.

nTC If the 2 percent raise is accepted by the union, police officers on average would receive $600 to $700 more per year. They would not receive a better retirement plan, but the city would take on the burden of higher health care costs.

Not competitive

"As it stands now, the contract they're offering doesn't do a whole lot for us," Lee said. "It hasn't solved anything. We still wouldn't be competitive. Our officers deserve a lot more, but it's up to them whether they want to fight and get what they deserve."

But Johnson said he believed it's unlikely that the city will find much more money in its operating budget to provide officers a higher pay raise.

City council members tweaked the $42 million budget earlier this month to find $260,000 to give all employees a 2 percent raise.

The council approved two contracts on Monday with a 2 percent raise accepted by the Professional Firefighters Union and the AFSCME unit that represents white-collar workers.

"We all want as much pay as we can get, but I think a lot of this is just labor negotiation talk," said Johnson, who added that he is supportive of his officers. "Until this contract stuff, it appeared most of our officers were pleased with the rate of pay and working conditions. I'll be glad when this is all over.

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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