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Unions Accuse County of Bullying on Pension Issue

Bill would eliminate decades-old practice of counting overtime toward pension benefits at the same time the county and a union are negotiating the issue in a new contract.

Union officials said Tuesday that a bill to change how pensions are calculated for county employees who belong to one union is little more than a bullying tactic used by county officials.

At issue is a bill that would eliminate overtime from final pension calculation for employees belonging to American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—mostly snowplow drivers and vehicle maintenance workers and employees who maintain the county sewers.

"You have to understand, we are the lowest paid county employees," said Norman Anderson, president of AFSCME in Baltimore County.

"We are the ones who keep the county running," said Anderson.

"Our scenario is very simple—when there's a foot of snow out there, that big yellow truck is the greatest thing in the world," said Anderson. "You could be having a party on Super Bowl Sunday or a Raven's celebration and you push that silver lever and things come up instead of go down and guess who the most important county employee is? The Bureau of Utilities. These are the people we represent."

Anderson and other union leaders testified in front of county council Tuesday about the pension issue and described the adminsitration's tactcs as heavy-handed.

Currently, employees represented by the union are allowed to use their overtime to increase the size of their final pension benefits. The employees pay into the pension system based on their overtime.

The practice, which is not law, affects only employees represented by AFSCME and dates back three decades, according to Keith Dorsey, director of the county Office of Budget and Finance.

The problem, however, stems from the fact that those overtime payments are not consistent year to year but result in an increase in an employee's base pay on which the final pension benefit is based.

"It's has brought  bizarre results," Dorsey said of the policy.

Dorsey said some employees could receive retirement benefits that are based on a calculation higher than their actual base salary. One current employee with the county could be paid a pension based on $62,000 in average compensation based on overtime payments even though his actually salary is $4,000 lower.

Dorsey said the bill brings the the policy "in line with what other employees are receiving."

The bill would affect about 834 people out of a pension system that covers about 9,600 employees, Dorsey said.

In 2011, affected employees earned nearly $3.5 million in overtime, according to the county auditor.

A county auditor's note estimates the savings to the county from the pension change at about $200,000 annually. Dorsey said that figure might be closer to $368,000 a year.

Employees who have already paid into the pension system based on their overtime would not lose their current payments but would not be able to apply future overtime to their pension beginning in June.

County Administrative Officer Fred Homan said the savings is important at a time when the county pension system becomes more mature and is not funded at the levels it was in the recent past.

A recent report now estimates that the county's system is 77 percent funded—down from about 80 percent last year, according to Homan.

"We've come to the point where this is essential," Homan said. "It's a policy and practice that no longer can be tolerated."

The change has been part of ongoing negotiations between the union and the county as they work on a new contract. The current contract expires at the end of June.

"We put this on the table and it was rejected by the (union)," said Homan.

Michael Spiller, a representative of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents employees including county public health nurses, said his union opposes the bill because of the effect it will have on negotiations with other unions.

"This is a premature bill," said Spiller, adding that the county's bill sends a message that "when we don't get what we want, we'll go to the council and get it."

This is the second bill since February that the county has sought to resolve an ongoing dispute over pensions.

The county is asking the General Assembly to change pension law as it pertains to some state employees who transfer to jobs in the county. The law would affect an ongoing legal issue involving the county.

In that lawsuit, the county has lost decisions at both the county Board of Appeals and in Harford County Circuit Court. The county is currently appealing the decision.

A number of unions including the county Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, which represents active and retired police officers, lined up Tuesday to oppose the council bill.

Dave Rose, second vice president of the police union, called the bill "vindictive" and "a typical bullying tactic used by the county."

"If they don't get it by bullying, they try to circumvent the system.

Rose said the county has tried to re-open negotiations with the police union over pension issues after agreeing in a contract that it wouldn't do so until 2014.

"Contract language means almost nothing to this administration,"said Rose, adding that the union has rebuffed efforts to open those negotiations and in return is now being taken to binding arbitration on another issue.

"There's the bullying," said Rose.

Homan rejected Rose's assertion that the county is a bully. Instead, he said the county has attempted to avoid furloughs and layoffs.

"Some counties have furloughed, laid off or raised taxes or all of the above in one, two or three years," said Homan

Councilman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, compared the bill to other moves the county has made to protect the pension system dating back to 2007.

"They have gotten some of the unions to make (agreements) that say future employees will pay more into the system so that current employees won't be laid off or furloughed for three years," said Olszewski. "To me, in this economy, that's a good thing."

Union officials said passage of the bill could lead to legal action against the county.

"By submitting legislation here, it is my opinion that the county is committing an unfair labor practice if it's approved," said Anderson, the union president, who added that a grievance would follow passage of the bill.

Mike Lurz March 14, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Unions are like any group of people, there are good and there are bad. As far as their usefulness in a government setting, it is a fine balance, and too often the balance tips to one side or another.
Buzz Beeler March 14, 2012 at 09:37 PM
For as second, after reading this quote by Mr. Homan, I'm at a loss for words. "Homan rejected Rose's assertion that the county is a bully." Second's up. Actually I agree with Mr. Homan. They aren't bullies - THEY ARE TYRANTS! On this comment the councilman is correct: "Councilman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, compared the bill to other moves the county has made to protect the pension system dating back to 2007." He just left out a few facts. The link will fill in the gaps. http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-02-28/news/bs-ed-baltimore-county-pension-20120228_1_council-pensions-pension-credits-pension-fund And finally we have this little ditty: "Dorsey said the bill brings the the policy "in line with what other employees are receiving." And to that I say - liar, liar, pants on fire! http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-01-29/news/bs-ed-baltimore-county-letter-20120129_1_pension-rule-retirement-benefits-stephen-g-samuel-moxley
johnny towson March 14, 2012 at 09:43 PM
The Unions should hit back and hit back hard. Until the double-dipping pensions of the Administration are rebuked by the same elite gang receiving them, there is no reason for us to compromise. The hypocrisy of Homan's words referring to the proposed changes above: "We've come to the point where this is essential, it's a policy and practice that no longer can be tolerated" so clearly demonstrates the arrogance and disconnect characterizing this Administration. Yes-man Johnny O is in tune with Kevin and Fred and we the tax payers are currently forced to listen to this disgusting chorus.
Jimmy March 14, 2012 at 10:11 PM
So Fred wants to protect the pension system that is 77% funded. Is that before or after they gave a 3 year incentive to retire to upper management employees? If the employees pension contribution is calculated using their OT, then they deserve to have that counted into their retirement, but if only the regular salary determines contribution, like PD and FD, then they should only be compensated in retirement reflecting their base salary. And as far as being fair, why do politicians deserve a 100% pension after working for as little as 8 years. Other county workers aren't even vested in the pension system untill 10 years. A Police officer has to put his live on the line for almost 40 years to get a 100% pension and a Firefighter 5 years longer. And then there is the double dipping. That's ok for Mr Gardinia now earning abour $150k and a 100% pension but not for the police officer that retires and wants to work for CCBC as a security guard to keep busy after he retires, at about $10 an hour.
Paul Harvey March 14, 2012 at 11:35 PM
The County Administration should not be allowed to circumvent the collective bargaining process using the County Council and the County Council should not be allowed to ignore the voters wishes!!!
Paul Harvey March 14, 2012 at 11:42 PM
November 2010 Baltimore County Question "A" received 171,773 votes in favor of Binding Arbitration. Are we really to the day when Elected Officials know better than the voters in Baltimore County???? I DON'T THINK SO!
Paul Harvey March 14, 2012 at 11:44 PM
DOESN'T ANYBODY REMEMBER THE NOVEMBER 2010 REFERENDUM QUESTION "A" ABOUT BINDING ARBITRATION?............VOTERS OVERWHELMINGLY HAVE SAID THAT THEY WANT TO SEE NEGOTIATION DISPUTES RESOLVED IN BALTIMORE COUNTY USING BINDING ARBITRATION!!!
Paul Harvey March 15, 2012 at 12:11 AM
Baltimore Co. Council approves binding arbitration measure http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-county/bs-md-co-arbitration-vote-20111017,0,4554033.story
Jimmy March 15, 2012 at 12:15 AM
The problem with binding arbitration is it only binds the county executive. If the council doesn't want it, all they have to do is refuse to fund it in the budget. Then what happens? Alot of people think bunding arbitration is so powerful and a great tool. It is for private industry but not so much in government. There is always another bill to be approved to circumvent binding arbitration. And who makes the laws...not the unions.
Jimmy March 15, 2012 at 12:19 AM
Another thing, government workers are "allowed" to have unions. The government does not have to allow unions to represent the workers.I know that would be a hard fight, but ultimately, I think that is one war the county would win.
Paul Harvey March 15, 2012 at 12:27 AM
In the above Baltimore Sun Article Councilman Olszewski is quoted in saying "My hope is that we never have to use binding arbitration," Olszewski said, adding that in labor disputes, it is best to find an "amicable solution that works for both sides." ...........I guess what he meant was amicable on the side of the union but not when it comes to the County Administration!
Jimmy March 15, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Paul, I just read the article you posted. Correct me if I;m wrong but these changes the county want's to enact will happen before binding arbitration takes effect. The article also says PD and FD have had binding arbitration for 10 years...I don't think it has been that long. PD has used it 2 or 3 times and won. I don't think the FD has used it yet.
Paul Harvey March 15, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Jimmy, It was a November 2010 Referendum question and at the County Administration request Binding Arbitration was passed with an effective date of 2014...........the Paul Harvey rest of the story appears to be that the requested delay for the Binding Arbitration effective date was so the Administration could have a few more years to bully unions in Baltimore County!
Skip727 March 15, 2012 at 10:40 AM
Jimmy, if the unions have their way, state employees will be getting a pay cut and will be FORCED to pay fees to a union whether they want to join or not. See HB537/SB783.
SA March 15, 2012 at 01:54 PM
Shut up and get back to work like the private sector! AFSCME is the figurehead of more public sector worker with unfounded entitlement attitude. Cry me a river about your 100% pensions at age 50 to 55. No one under 45 in private industry even knows what a pension is. The money to fund all these public sector pensions and lifetime medical coverage is long since spent and then some. Explain how government employees are entitled to unionize. That sure seems like a conflict of interest to me.
Michele K Struck March 15, 2012 at 06:34 PM
hey SA, why not get pissed at private industry for not doing the right thing and providing adiquate health care coverage, pension etc. In 1955 30% of all private sector jobs were unionized, pay was up, benifits up, national economy growing at the highest levels ever.... this continues for 20 years, then slowly but surely laws were passed that broke up unions, stripped them of there power and big buisness cheered an paid those elected officials fat donations and so it began..... fast forward to 2012, less then 6% of private sector jobs are unionized and what do you find? well I will tell you what we find, no pensions, health care costs shifted from employer to employee, little or now pay increases ..... generally speaking the middle and lower middle class are now gone..... we have lost all our advancements and at 52 like myself find I have no finacial stability and am at the whime of my boss on weather or not I even have a job day to day since we now live in a "without cause" era..... dont get mad at the unions....... unionize.
Hope Soka March 15, 2012 at 09:30 PM
State employees are already FORCED to pay service fees to unions. The unions then negotiate a contract with the governor calling for raises, etc., the legislature cuts the negotiated raises from the proposed budget, health care costs go up and the state employees are left with less money in their paychecks. The unions make contributions to the governor and other elected officials and no one questions this practice. When all of the unions (except for the State police) receive nearly identical contracts from the governor, and each one only receives what the governor decides to give them before 'bargaining' begins, one could say that collective bargaining really doesn't exist within the Maryland State Government.
Jimmy March 15, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Amen Michele, well said! Skip, most union shops have a "fair share" fee than non union members must pay. This is because even if someone doesn't belong to a union, they benefit from the union in wage adn benefit negociations. And to SA, like I originally said, it's about living up to what was promised you when you signed the contract. If Government doesn't have to abide by a contract why should anyone. Then where would the world be...no warranties, no responsibility to repair safety recalls... And government employees are not ENTITLED to a union, they are ALLOWED TO HAVE A UNION. The government can shut down the unions at any time, but that would be political suicide. Also, nobody gets a 100% pension but the politicians. I was informed today that even at 45 years in the FD, or PD the most a person can get is 99%. Public safety has worked long and hard to get the pension benefits they have. Don't you think the people that are willing to lay down their life for you are worth a good pendion and maybe being able to retire a little earlier than someone who sits at a desk all day? The question you should be asking is why do the politicians believe they are ENTITLED to a 100% pension and the guy that protects the county executive or the firefighters that gets the county exec out of a stuck elevator will NEVER attain the same benefits as him!
Other Tim March 15, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Unions priced themselves out of existence. Non-skilled laborers twisting lug nuts on new cars making well over $50,000 a year is a good example. Who are you kidding getting upset at private business trying to cut costs. Capitalism and maximizing profits are what America was built on. Forcing any business to pay benefits to an employee is no longer a benefit. It is a tax, passed along to the cosumer.
Marty Warren March 15, 2012 at 11:33 PM
IMHO, they don't have the money to keep all the promises they made to you. Even the Uber Liberal Gov. Cuomo of New York said "We must cut some of the pensions. We can't keep taxing the millionaires or they will keep moving away. We must cut the pensions". I can't believe Cuomo and I agree on something.
Steven J March 16, 2012 at 12:51 PM
Marty, they don't tax the millionaires, that's part of the problem. They levy a tax and then give them a loophole. The Pension issue started with the goof Chris Christie in NJ and all his cronies chimed in. I think it's horrible to pull the rug out from under those that protect you. These people put their life on the line every day. They miss their kids growing up, sports, dance recitals, birthdays, Christmas. Away from their families...why? To be spit on, yelled at, assaulted. These are special people and should be treated that way...AT ALL COST. Ask yourself, where would we be if we didn't have these local heroes to protect you? Give them a break, make them not have to worry about surviving after retirement, and let them retire young enough so they can enjoy life for a change.
Steven J March 16, 2012 at 12:58 PM
@Tim...the unions didn't price themselves out of existence, society got greedy. Employers can always say no. People will only strike so long before they have to come back to work or go bankrupt. Why shouldn't workers feel they are worth more money when the owners of these companies are Billionaires and complain about having to pay a couple of dollars in taxes. They eat lobster every night when the workers eat fish sticks. When my father was alive and in a union, he never had to beg for a raise and the owner of his company wasn't a millionaire either. He was happy to share the wealth with his workers and in turn he got dedicated employees. He even got a small pension for his dedicated years of service. Today it all comes down to greed.
Paul Harvey March 16, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Corporate GREED is no different than County Administrative GREED. If the Council allows for the RAPING of the Union contract maybe we will hear about TOP County Administrative figures TRIPLE DIPPING………..if they are not already! http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/editorial/bs-ed-baltimore-county-pension-20120228,0,7986217.story http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/editorial/bs-ed-baltimore-county-pensions-20111218,0,2598463.story http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/breaking/bs-md-co-council-pensions-20111224,0,5402793.story
Buzz Beeler March 16, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Paul, I already posted those links but I do believe the topic takes a while to sink in. Some folks just don't get it. The reality in these pension related issues is dire. http://www.statebudgetsolutions.org/about_us/newsroom/state-unfunded-pension-liabilities-exceed-1-trillion The reason for this is contained in the link. How does a state fall so far? Because we are truly the land of the FREE! http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304537904577277242682364690.html?mod=WSJ_hp_mostpop_read
Jimmy March 16, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Homan rejected Rose's assertion that the county is a bully. Instead, he said the county has attempted to avoid furloughs and layoffs. I just re-read the article and I found this quote interesting... "Some counties have furloughed, laid off or raised taxes or all of the above in one, two or three years," said Homan The layoffs and furloughs have been avoided because of Jim Smith's administration. The bullying didn't start untll the Kamenetz administration. There have been alot of realocation of duties and an ungodly amount of favors repaid. Moxley, Gardina, Code Enforcement, Human resources and the list goes on. It feels like we are in the Republic of Kamenetz and Homan. There should not be anyone this powerful or above reproach in a democracy.

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