Clerical workers gain tentative pact; Three other unions press contract hopes before officials, public


Anne Arundel County has reached tentative agreement on a new contract with about 420 clerical workers, but negotiations with unions of three other groups are unresolved -- and workers are showing their displeasure.

Members of the firefighters' and blue-collar unions massed last night outside the county's Arundel Center in Annapolis. They then appeared before a County Council meeting -- which did not have the negotiations on its agenda -- to try to drum up support.

Today, deputy sheriffs plan to take their contract hopes to the public by handing out leaflets -- outside the courthouse, at shopping centers and at community events. The leaflets explain their jobs and quest for more money.

The tentative contract for the white-collar clerical employees provides raises of 2 percent each year for the next three years, said Donna Getter, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2563.

About half the workers also will receive increases to bring their pay in line with that of co-workers doing essentially the same jobs.

"I think my people will be pretty happy," said Getter. But she added that union representatives have not signed off on the deal because the county hasn't put the terms in writing. Getter said a vote by membership may not be until next month.

She said correcting salary imbalances -- created in 1996 by changes in work rules -- was a key goal. "There are people sitting side by side, doing the same thing, and there was a real big discrepancy in pay," she said. "By the end of the three-year contract, it will help them catch up in salary."

Those employees will see raises greater than 13 percent over three years, Getter said, though she did not have exact figures.

County officials have offered the 470 firefighters raises of 15 percent over the next three years. However, union officials say the offer would further extend the disparity between Anne Arundel's firefighters and police officers -- and firefighters in neighboring jurisdictions.

Several hundred firefighters and other union members lined sidewalks in front of the Arundel Center, holding signs and waving -- spurring horn-honking from some passing motorists.

Firefighter Curtis Johnson, standing in the Calvert Street median, viewed the rally as a success -- based on thumbs-up greetings from passers-by. "I really think the public supports us," he said. "All we're asking for is a fair deal."

An Anne Arundel firefighter with 20 years of experience makes $41,404 at the top of the pay scale. In Howard County, a 20-year firefighter makes $48,761, and in Prince George's the scale reaches $59,309.

Negotiators have scheduled a fact-finding session for Thursday. After the hearing, an arbitrator from the American Arbitration Association will make nonbinding recommendations about how to resolve the labor dispute, said the county's personnel officer, Randall Schultz.

If no resolution is reached by May 1, Schultz said, recommendations of the arbitrator, County Executive Janet S. Owens and the union will be forwarded to the County Council, which will schedule an impasse hearing to vote on a course of action.

If the council's findings require additional funds, it would forward a request to Owens for approval. If the dispute remains unresolved, the county's offer would be applied to paychecks of firefighters -- who as public employees are forbidden to strike -- after the contract expires in June.

The firefighters were joined along Calvert Street by members of AFSCME Local 582, which represents about 860 blue-collar workers, including Department of Public Works road crew employees who say they have dangerous and underpaid jobs.

The Local 582 has been offered 2 percent annual raises over the next three years, said Local 582 President Scott Harmon. "We're just asking for a fair cost-of-living increase. If they can find that much for police, they can find a little more for us."

Officials with both unions have said the feel betrayed by Owens, who, they say, made campaign promises to pay workers what their colleagues in nearby counties earn.

The deputies are seeking pay parity with surrounding counties and raises similar to the 17 percent over three years won by county police in March. Because there are 56 deputies, the package would cost the county about $250,000 a year, union officials estimate.

One of the leaflets boosting their cause begins, "Do you know what your AACO deputy sheriffs do for your tax dollar?" It lists an array of duties including prisoner transport and courtroom security, serving arrest warrants and the detection of explosives.

"We are still one of the lowest paid law enforcement agencies in the surrounding area. Please support our efforts to receive fair wages," the flier says.

Another lists the names and office telephone numbers of County Council members and urges, "Please contact your County Council members and tell them you support the Anne Arundel County Deputy Sheriffs and that they deserve to be paid and treated for the professional work they perform."

Deputies say that if people knew what their jobs entail, the public would back higher salaries. Deputies are armed and have the same law enforcement certification as police. They serve nearly all Circuit Court and District Court warrants, domestic violence restraining orders and child-support summonses.

Salaries for deputies start at $25,832 -- less than the pay of some county emergency dispatchers. On April 5, the deputies' Maryland public employees Teamsters Local 103 rejected a raise of 6 percent over three years offered by the county.

Deputies cannot hand out leaflets while in uniform, but some said they will be wearing sheriff T-shirts and other identifying clothing. They are likely to receive help from some of the 1,700 public employees who belong to their Teamsters local.

Though the deputies cannot strike, the union has not ruled out taking action against the county.

"While we support the deputy sheriffs' First Amendment right of free speech, it's really inappropriate to make a comment about the negotiations," Andrew C. Carpenter, spokesman for Owens, said yesterday.

"Mediation did not work. We are now going to fact-finding," said J. William Mowery, business agent for Local 103.

The deputies have the support of Sheriff George F. Johnson IV, who said he loses deputies to other agencies because of low salaries.

Staff writer Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

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