County, employee unions reach agreements


Anne Arundel County has reached agreements with all five employee unions whose contracts were the focal point of last spring's budget debate.

"Thank God," said Councilman Edward R. Reilly, a Crofton Republican. "It was a long and arduous journey to arrive here."

The last of the one-year contracts was ratified Thursday by the county firefighters union.

"We're not happy with it," said Keith Wright, the president of the county firefighters union. "If we had been treated differently ... we might have a different opinion of ending up in the same place.

"It was all about the process this year."

The union members will receive pay increases tied to time of service, and members of three unions will receive one-time bonuses to be paid out over the year. No members will receive cost-of-living increases.

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, a Democrat, initially proposed wage freezes for each of the five unions - which represent about 1,500 employees, mostly public safety workers.

The council cut money from Owens' proposed budget and pushed for it to be put toward salary increases, but Owens refused. So the council reluctantly - but unanimously - passed a budget in late May that called for wage freezes.

But two weeks later, the legislation required to make the wage freezes a reality failed to attain the required four votes. Two of the seven council members were unable to cast votes because of conflicts of interest, and two voted against the measure.

That vote ensured that each of the five unions would receive raises tied to time of service for this fiscal year. But it also prompted Owens to fire 16 new police officers and two clerical workers. She also eliminated several empty positions in the Fire Department and raised health insurance contribution rates.

The employees continued working while their contracts, which expired July 1, were temporarily extended.

The approved contracts maintain the health insurance increase, which will save the county about $500,000, officials said.

They also provide police sergeants, officers and firefighters with $600 bonuses for maintaining certification - a minimum requirement for their jobs.

The bonuses, provided by the Owens administration, will cost the county about $700,000, officials said.

"They come back to the table and add a $600 per employee bonus," said Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, one of two council members who voted against Owens' proposed wage freeze. "If that was their intention, why didn't they do that from the beginning?"

The money became available, budget officer John Hammond said, as a result of the firings and other cuts in June.

Despite the contract settlement, a rift remains between the Owens administration and the councilwomen who voted against the wage freeze - Democrats Beidle and Barbara D. Samorajczyk.

Said county personnel officer Mark Atkisson on Friday, "It's unfortunate you've got a minority of people running county government."

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