Baltimore County essential workers agree to contract, raise

The union that represents 1,700 Baltimore County employees in corrections, the 911 center, sanitation and animal control has ratified a new contract that includes a 2 percent raise but leaves a dispute over emergency leave unresolved.

"Members decided to ratify the contract and get the raise," said John Ripley, president of the Baltimore Federation of Public Employees. "The impasse we have been fighting for 18 months will just be taken up with the next administration. We are not happy with this administration."

A spokesman for County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said he was "gratified" the contract was ratified.

"Our focus all along was on making sure these hard-working employee received the raises that they were entitled to," spokesman Don Mohler said.

The workers, whose jobs all are considered essential, say they are frustrated by rules that allow supervisors to deny them unscheduled emergency leave. Under the contract, employees are given six such days per year.

"We have data that shows 80 percent of correctional employees use one day or less of emergency leave and schedule the rest like they do vacation time," Ripley said. "We are hearing about a lot of baseless denials and preferential treatment."

The union, which has argued for more flexibility, had refused to sign the contract. But with a deadline Monday to approve the contract or risk losing the raise, they ratified it. Employees will receive the 2 percent increase retroactive to Jan. 1, when it took effect for other county employees.

Smith and at least four of the seven members of the county council will leave office later this year. Ripley said the union would press for new rules on emergency leave once a new county executive and council take office.

"This issue will continue to be a problem," he said. "It's basically a recipe for disaster the way it is now."

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