The fight for justice on behalf of our Anne Arundel County correction program specialists (CPS) and deputy sheriffs hit a brick wall recently when third-party decisions came down on the side of the County.
During negotiations for a new contract for correction program specialists, the County and Local negotiators reached impasse over a County proposal for 12 furlough days (equal to a 5% pay reduction) and our counter proposal that pointed to a 5% cost-savings without the proposed hit to members' pay. (We had already agreed to extend the 2010 wage freeze.) A Fact Finder was engaged to make findings of fact and a recommend resolution of the dispute. (Note: The CPS contract does not provide for binding arbitration.) Though the our counter-proposal had a price tag estimated to be in the order of $50,000 – insignificant in a budget in excess of $2 billion – the Fact Finder, in a convoluted written decision that repeatedly made reference to the County's on-going financial problems and it’s "availability of funds,” wrote "the Union must feel 'necessity's sharp pinch' and its counter-proposal should be rejected." Separately, AA County Deputy Sheriff negotiations reached impasse when final offers (FO) were made and rejected by both parties. The County's FO proposed 6 furlough days and the elimination of weapons and cleaning allowances that translates to a 5% pay reduction. The Union's proposal for 5 furlough days and no change in allowances translates to only a 2% reduction in annual wages. The 3% difference is tied to the County's unilateral elimination of the Deputy Sheriffs' July 2009 COLA [FY2010]. That dispute is currently in separate litigation and background info can be found in recent issues of 355's newsletter, and here and here.
The County argued that the Union's proposal of a 2% reduction "is attributable to its perception that it was wronged in FY2010." The arbitrator wrote in his decision that "the gap is not a reason to grant this bargaining unit in interest arbitration an inflated FO, over and above other bargaining units, for FY 2012." Essentially, the arbitrator decided that choosing the Union's FO would put our bargaining unit in a better position than other bargaining units. In deciding that the County's final offer was more reasonable, the arbitrator awarded it in its entirety and made it part of the terms for the Deputy Sheriff's new contract.
When the Union and the Employer are unable to reach agreement, resolution is sought by submitting the dispute to a third, outside party. In the case of the correctional program specialists who do not have binding arbitration in their contract, a Fact Finder must be engaged to hear the dispute. But unlike interest arbitration where an Arbitrator renders a decision that is binding on both parties, a Fact Finder investigates the facts, reviews the parties' positions, and delivers a report that includes recommendations that the disputants can either accept or reject. If rejected by either party, the dispute then goes to the County Council for resolution.
The current Council is no friend to Labor. Given that the Council has a Republican majority that is clearly under the thumb of the Republican County Executive, and in light of their recent action that stripped binding arbitration rights from public safety unions, it doesn’t seem likely that we would prevail in front of this County Council.
Local 355 Officers and Trustees vowed to use every available option to fight County Executive John Leopold's power grab and anti-union proposals. While the Fact Finder's recommendation and Arbitrator's award favoring the County is disappointing and could be viewed as a setback, our message to the County Executive remains loud and clear: We will not roll over to your demands. Your continued brazen attempts to exert total control over County employees by stripping our members of their hard-won and justly deserved wages and benefits to balance your County budget will never go unanswered. (See “Public safety Unions Sue Anne Arundel County”)
Understanding that third-party decisions sometimes don’t go our way, we remain committed in our pursuit of whatever remedies we consider necessary to defend and protect our members’ interests.