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Floreen proposes major changes to collective bargaining in Montgomery County

June 20
Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen, who led the effort this spring to trim previously negotiated pay raises from public employee union contracts, is proposing legislation to bring what she calls more “balance” to the county’s collective bargaining process.Floreen’s bill, to be introduced at Tuesday’s legislative session, would open parts of the negotiations between unions and the county government to the public for the first time and use retired judges, rather than experienced labor negotiators, as neutral third parties. It would replace the single arbitrator who currently decides labor disputes with a three-person panel, and require that panel to give more weight to the county’s financial ability to pay for labor agreements.“This Council is committed to finding the right balance between the needs of our residents and the needs of our employees,” Floreen (D-At Large), considered one of the more business-friendly members of the all-Democratic council, said in a statement Monday. “The bill would help the County and our employees establish more equitable contract arbitration awards and enhance the likelihood that negotiations are grounded in fiscal reality.”Union leaders immediately denounced the bill, calling it a series of solutions to problems that do not exist. They also expressed disappointment that Floreen did not reach out to them prior to introducing the measure.“We don’t understand the need for the bill,” said Jeff Buddle, president of the career firefighters union, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1664. “We have a process that is extremely effective.”

Perhaps too effective, in the view of Floreen and other council members. County unions have won 16 of 20 arbitration decisions since 1988.

By tweaking parts of the arbitration process, Floreen said, she hopes to encourage both the government and labor unions to more frequently seek a negotiated solution to disputes and avoid arbitration.

The bill, which Floreen said has been in the works for months, is certain to add to the increasingly strained relations between the council and the county’s police, fire and non-uniformed employees. The council, which has final say over labor contracts negotiated by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), angered unions this year by trimming promised pay increases, eliminating a 3.5 percent longevity increase that was deferred during the recession. The council said it needed the funds for school improvements instead.

In response, Gino Renne, president of the Municipal and County Government Employee Organization, which represents about 5,000 non-uniformed workers, called council members “clowns” and said the union will consider backing the term-limits proposal likely to be on the county ballot this fall.

The bill would require public disclosure of each party’s initial bargaining position in a contract negotiation. It would also mandate that certain aspects of the arbitration process be held in public.

It would repeal the right of each union to have a say in the appointment of a labor relations administrator, who helps to ensure that the collective bargaining law covering each union is being followed. The appointment would instead be decided exclusively by the county executive and the council.

Floreen also wants to separate the role of mediator and arbitrator in labor disputes in which the county and a union can’t come to terms. Current law requires one person to serve as both. Floreen said she believes both sides would feel freer to confide the strengths and weaknesses of their positions to a mediator who would not be involved in imposing an arbitrated solution.

The three-person arbitration panel would include one person selected by the executive, one by the union and a retired judge to be mutually agreed upon. Floreen’s proposal would also expand the number of factors the panel must consider beyond affordability before making its decision.

Renne said some of the bill’s provisions come “right out of the ALEC playbook,” referring to model legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative policy group that works with state legislatures.

Floreen said that was not the case and that many of the proposals in the bill come from recommendations made by a county commission on organizational reform that issued a report in 2011.

Smaller pay raises, class sizes could be coming to Montgomery Co.


WASHINGTON — Thousands of Montgomery County employees who were expecting a raise will get less than they bargained for, and parents may see smaller class sizes in their children’s classrooms.

That’s because the Montgomery County Council — in a preliminary vote — approved a plan to reduce the compensation packages for unions that represent teachers, firefighters, police officers and service workers.

Instead of boosting some county employees’ wages by up to eight percent, the savings will be applied to a plan to cut class size and attack the county school system’s persistent achievement gap between black and Latino students and their white and Asian-American peers.

The plan got a cold reception from union members in the audience for Monday’s council vote.

“It’s not good,” said Gilberto Zelaya, with the Montgomery County Government Employees Organization.

He watched the council vote 8 to 1 to cut the raises and step increases that his union members were hoping for.

“We understand that we all have to carry our weight,” Zelaya said. But he insists his union members are taking a disproportionate hit. Zelaya said other unions don’t have to pay the same share of their own health care that his members do.

“There should be some type of parity,” he said.

Councilman Marc Elrich was the lone vote opposing the changes to the collective bargaining agreements.

Asked about the fact that the union members are still getting pay increases — although in lesser amounts — Elrich said a look at recent history explains the grumbling. Elrich said the unions gave up step increases during the height of the recession.

“The recession ended, things got better—but we turned this into a permanent giveback instead of a temporary takeaway,” Elrich said.

Christopher Lloyd, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, said the vote is “disappointing, it’s frustrating, but I’m also someone who understands that the public schools are supported by the public.”

Lloyd said keeping public support also means showing gains in the classroom.

Lloyd said for teachers, there’s a tradeoff: the County Council is supporting the addition of nearly $90 million to the county’s education budget. That’s above the state mandated maintenance of effort formula.

The intention is for that money to be applied to smaller class sizes and adding supports for students who need it most. There’s hope that could help close the county’s achievement gap.

Lloyd said it should be remembered that the nearly $90 million in added spending is a long-term commitment, since the county is mandated by the state to maintain spending levels each year.

Lloyd said the reductions to the current bargaining agreement represent a long-term gain for short-term pain. Still, he said, it will be a hard sell to his members

Another hard sell in the council’s projected budget: a boost to the county’s property tax and the recordation tax — the tax applied to home sales.

The final vote on the county’s $5.1 billion budget is scheduled for May 26.

Montgomery Council calls for reduction in wage in negotiated wage hikes

The Montgomery County Council rejected a proposed $100 million package of pay hikes averaging about 8 percent for teachers and other unionized employees Tuesday, telling County Executive Isiah Leggett and the Board of Education that the increases need to be pared back.The raises were negotiated by the county and school system as part of collective bargaining agreements. But council members, who are also considering a 6.4 percent property tax increase to fund the 2017 budget that goes into effect July 1, said the hikes are out of scale in an economy where inflation is low and Social Security beneficiaries won’t see an annual cost-of-living adjustment.“We’re working together to rebalance our spending in a way that’s responsible to all, including students, taxpayers and employees,” said Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At Large).Leggett and the Board of Education have until May 10 to renegotiate wage provisions with unions and send a revised package back to the council. Leggett and the board could also opt to leave the increases unchanged.

The council has the authority to set pay. It is scheduled to take final action on the budget May 26.

Leggett, who negotiated the contracts with police fire and non-uniform county employees, said the chances of shrinking the package were remote and amounted to “a kabuki dance” of pointless posturing.

“There’s no way I can envision that we can successfully negotiate what the council wants,” Leggett said.

He added that during the recession years, when the county was strapped for revenue, economic stability was achieved “on the backs of labor.” That came with a promise, he said, that workers would be made whole when times improved.

“We said that as we emerged from that we would try to make up for some of that,” Leggett said

About three-quarters of the $100 million is earmarked for the 156,000-student school system. In 2014, the county Board of Education signed an agreement with unionized teachers, principals and support staff that calls for a 2 percent general wage hike and a 3 percent “step” or longevity increase in September, followed by another step increase in March averaging an additional 3 percent for some school employees.

The council is considering a $2.4 billion schools appropriation for 2017, about $90 million above the state-mandated minimum spending requirements, or maintenance of effort. Members said they want to see less taxpayer money going to salaries and more channeled into initiatives that reduce class size and target the achievement gap.

School Board President Michael Durso and Chris Lloyd, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, said discussions were underway and expressed optimism.

“The council has made it very clear they are concerned about class size and the achievement gap, and so it’s incumbent on us to find a way where that can happen,” Durso said.

Lloyd, whose union presents about 12,000 classroom teachers and other educators and support staff, said both sides are “trying to find a path forward.”

“The challenge is to put together a package that makes sense to meet priorities and honor the people who are working to meet those priorities,” Lloyd said.

Under contracts negotiated by Leggett, police and non-uniform employees would receive 1 percent general wage increases and a pair of 3.5 percent step increases — one for this year and the other to make up for step increases deferred during the recession. Firefighters would get a 2 percent wage adjustment and a single 3.5 percent step increase.

The council said Tuesday that it wanted to eliminate the deferred step increase for police and nonuniform workers and reduce the firefighter wage increase to 1 percent, bringing all three unions to a 4.5 percent hike.

Gino Renne, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 MCGEO (Municipal and County Government Employees Organization) which represents about 8,000 non-uniform county workers, said the money at issue was “nickels and dimes” in the context of a $5.2 billion annual operating budget.

“This is really about money that was loaned to them by the workforce,” Renne said. “They want to renege on promises that were made.”

A County Council staff report recommends against funding full salary increases for teachers and school staff set to go into effect in September and next March, saying the council should push the school system to instead spend some of the money on reducing class sizes and solving the achievement gap.

Citing inflation numbers that remain low and the fact that Social Security beneficiaries won’t see a cost of living increase this year, the report also recommends against second-step increases already negotiated for county government employees and a decrease in the cost-of-living increase negotiated for county firefighters.

“The Council’s top priority is classroom initiatives that reduce class size and target the achievement gap,” read the report, which was prepared for a Thursday morning joint budget hearing before the council’s Government Operations and Education committees. “Channeling funds to these initiatives within the amount appropriated by the Council will require a reduction in proposed FY17 employee pay adjustments.”

Two years ago, the county’s Board of Education entered into the three-year agreement that calls for the 2 percent general wage increases in September with the three unions that represent more than 22,000 county school teachers, support staff, principals and administrators. The agreement also calls for a step increase in September that averages about 3 percent and another step increase next March averaging another 3 percent for some school system employees.

According to Stephen Farber, the council administrator who helped prepare the report, the county would have a nine-day period to renegotiate its agreements with county employee unions if council members support the recommendations at Thursday’s committee hearing and Tuesday’s full council session.

The Board of Education has authority over the school system’s contract agreements with teacher and staff unions. It would be up to the board to determine how to allocate the amount of funding approved by the council.

The council is set to approve the budget May 26 for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The recommendations come as council members consider County Executive Ike Leggett’s recommendation for a 6.4 percent property tax increase to fund a proposed $5.27 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts in July.

Because the proposed increase would put the property tax rate above the county’s charter limit, it would likely require unanimous approval from the nine-member council. That has prompted a deep examination of the employee salaries and benefits included the budget.

A 6 percent increase in funding for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) that’s $89.3 million more than the minimum spending required by state law was one of the driving factors behind Leggett’s property tax increase recommendation. MCPS funding would make up $2.45 billion of the county’s budget under Leggett’s proposal.

The council staff report points to the significant continued costs of salaries and benefits for county government employees, school system employees and employees of other county-funded agencies.

Salary and benefit costs for active and retired county government employees account for 80 percent of the $4.62 billion tax-supported portion of Leggett’s recommended budget. Salary and benefit costs for active and retired school system employees account for 90 percent of recommended school system funding, according to the report.

While saying MCPS employees have received similar pay increases as county government employees over the last six fiscal years, the report says “benefits for MCPS employees are especially attractive,” pointing to lower health care premium payments.

Leggett negotiated a 1 percent general wage increase for next fiscal year for most of the county’s more than 9,000 employees, a group that doesn’t include MCPS employees. The county employees would also get a step increase of 3.5 percent and there would be a second 3.5 percent increase for employees who had step increases postponed during the Great Recession-fueled economic downturn.

The county firefighters union negotiated a 2 percent general wage increase that the report recommends cutting to 1 percent.

The report says the general wage increases would cost the county $5.7 million for county employees, $31.5 million for MCPS employees, $4.2 million for Montgomery College employees and $1 million for Park and Planning employees—a total of about $42.5 million in additional costs for general wage increases.

Each of the agencies also include additional wage increase costs for step and longevity raises.

Phased-in 17.5% raise approved for Montgomery County Council

October 22, 2013
The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday approved a proposed 17.5 percent pay hike for members taking office after the 2014 elections, but to deflect constituent criticism eight months before the primary elections, the council decided to phase in the raise over four years.

A seven-member citizens panel appointed by the council recommended the raise last month. The panel said the complexity of the job, compounded by the power and reach of social media, has created unprecedented demands on the time and energy of council members. The compensation committee favored increasing council pay from $106,394 annually — which the members will make by year’s end because of a previously approved 2.2 percent cost-of-living adjustment — to $125,000, effective December 2014.

In addition, the committee proposed annual adjustments over the next three years tied to the region’s consumer price index, to bring council compensation to a projected $136,258 by 2017, a total increase of 28 percent. Reviews every four years by such committees have increased council pay from $62,500 in 1998.

The recommendation made by this year’s panel — headed by former Inter-American Development Bank analyst Cristina Echavarren — put the council in a box. Nearly all members seemed to think that they deserved the money, but they were concerned about public reaction, which in some cases had been scathing. Some members expressed concern about a backlash from the county’s public employee unions, which received raises averaging 7 to 10 percent in contracts approved by the council this spring.

The council approved an amendment by President Nancy Navarro (D-Mid-County), chopping the pay package into annual increments of 6 to 6.5 percent.

“I believe we also need to be mindful that many of our residents are facing difficult economic times,” Navarro said.

That change lowers council members’ pay as of December 2014 pay from the proposed $125,000 to $113,310. With the projected inflation adjustments,members are on track to make $120,675 effective December 2015 and $128,519 in December 2016.

Council Vice President Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) said he has received a steady stream of e-mails for and against the raise. The reaction of some residents was that members “don’t deserve anything to begin with.” Other residents, he said, appreciate the council’s hard work. In the end, he said, the measure strikes the right balance and makes running for office affordable to a broader range of citizens.

The council approved the plan by an 8 to 1 vote, with Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) as the sole dissenter. Andrews, who opposed the size of this year’s raises for county workers, called the council raise “larger than a pay increase should be,” and he said it will make it more difficult to avoid awarding big increases to unionized employees.

But the pay package drew support from some surprising quarters. The president of the Montgomery Taxpayers League, which generally takes a dim view of increased county spending, gave her blessing to the raises at a hearing before the vote.

“This pay raise is not about performance, it’s because of the responsibilities of your position and the expectations that you will meet them,” said Joan Fidler, who said about 600 county government employees and more than 2,000 county school system employees make higher salaries.

“Our county and school employees are not on call 24-7, you are,” Fidler said.

Research by the committee suggested that Montgomery council members were roughly in the middle of the pack nationally when their compensation was compared with that of governing boards in counties of similar size. The raises will pull members nearly even with their counterparts on the D.C. Council, most of whom are paid $128,340. It will place them ahead of council members in Prince George’s County ($102,486) and Fairfax County ($75,000).

The council also adopted the committee’s recommendation to raise the county executive’s salary about 3 percent, from $184,360 to $190,000, after the next election. The panel proposed no increase in the state’s attorney’s pay, now $199,000, except for a cost-of-living increase next year linked to the consumer price index. The same is true of the county sheriff, who will be making $157,234 by the end of this year.