County workers may picket today outside ceremony marking new courthouse; Deputy sheriffs, others in union negotiations


Officials, jurists and other guests entering the new Anne Arundel County Court House for today's dedication might be walking past sign-toting county workers outside, fuming over what they consider paltry pay raise offers.

Deputy sheriffs -- anywhere from 15 to 40 union members -- are promising to pass out leaflets and carry posters seeking support for wage increases. They might be joined by firefighters.

"This is an opportunity for us to let them know what we do and what we deserve," said David Belisle, chief shop steward for the 56 deputies, who provide court security and serve court warrants.

Inside the $62.4 million courthouse in Annapolis, deputies will serve as the honor guard for the hourlong ceremony.

More than 400 people are expected for the dedication. Among those scheduled to speak are Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Robert M. Bell, chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, and the target of workers' ire, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens.

Owens' administration was unaware of the potential demonstration until contacted by a Sun reporter.

Spokeswoman Judy Pederson said a protest would not mar festivities.

"We are there to celebrate the building. One thing is business, and this is a celebration of an accomplishment," she said.

Whether the protest occurs will be unknown until shortly before the 5 p.m. event.

Deputies are scheduled to vote earlier in the afternoon on an offer from the county that would boost starting pay from $25,800 -- less than some of the county's 911 emergency dispatchers -- to about $29,000, would halve their advancement steps to 10 years and would include a gun-and-clothing allowance.

The three-year package is far below the 17 percent increase deputies sought, but J. William Mowry, business agent for the Teamsters public employees union that represents the deputies, would not say what the percentage raises would be.

The courthouse celebration is costing about $12,000, with businesses and organizations picking up half the tab. Open to the public, it is to include a series of speeches, music, a commemorative coin, a reception and display of items to be placed in a time capsule.

The five-story courthouse with a four-story atrium is the winner of a national design award and has the equivalent of 6 acres of floor space.

Opened fully in December, the state-of-the-art circuit court has enhanced security, 10 jury courtrooms, and three hearing rooms with a fourth under construction. A waiting area for families also is under construction.

A glass lobby connects the new building to its entrance, the restored 1823 brick former courthouse. The building was designed to fit in with neighboring structures in the city's Historic District, and though it fills most of a city block, barely any of the building is visible from the front of its historic predecessor.

The 475-member firefighters union has turned down Owens' offer of a 13 percent three-year contract and is seeking the same 17 percent that the police won and the deputies sought.

"I'll be down there," said Jim Edwards, president of the firefighters union. "I know Parris [Glendening]."

Nothing official is planned by the 475-member union, but Edwards said he expects at least a few firefighters to be outside the building.

The union has been demonstrating outside the county government building during council sessions, encouraging a racket as motorists respond to its honk-if-you-support-firefighters request. That campaign is not expected at the court.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad