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Latest News - December 2010

November 12, 2010
Union Backlash Growing in Montgomery
Source: Washington Examiner
By: Brian Hughes

Montgomery County's public employees unions are turning up the pressure on officials who vowed to cut back on the region's most generous compensation packages for local government workers.

"They're really upset," said Councilman Marc Elrich, D-at large, of the growing union anger. "At the end of the day, though, we're going to have to do what we have to do. I don't imagine we're going to score any points with any of them."

A report from the county Office of Legislative Oversight identified ballooning salaries and benefits as the cause of Montgomery's fiscal crisis, and in turn, County Council members said they would explore slashing salaries, benefits and the size of the work force.

It didn't take long for the finger-pointing to follow, and a strong union presence is expected at Tuesday's council meeting -- and all meetings in the immediate future.

"The enormous importance given [the OLO report] by both the media and some County Council members is unmerited," said the Montgomery County Education Association, local Service Employees International Union and Montgomery County Association of Administrative and Supervisory Personnel in a joint statement. "It looks only at employee costs as if the hard-working men and women who have dedicated themselves to serving our county are a pit into which tax dollars are dropped."

Of every taxpayer dollar spent, 82 cents is devoted to wages and benefits.

"All of the sudden, there is this attack on people who perform services," said Walt Bader, chief negotiator for the Fraternal Order of Police, who said officials should focus instead on redundant positions and exorbitant salaries for top administrators. "You're not going to get the Walmart rate for quality service. This is clearly an attack on unions."

Over the past decade, the cost of pension and retirement benefits jumped 226 percent and health benefits for active employees grew 134 percent. A grade three firefighter, for example, earned $35,400 a decade ago compared with $62,500 this fiscal year. With benefits included, the employee banks more than $100,000.

The showdown takes place alongside contract negotiations with the unions and on the heels of County Executive Ike Leggett's announcement that the suburb faces a $350 million shortfall over the next year and a half.

"We know that we're in for another bad year, and maybe another one after that," said Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield. "What will affect the negotiations will be the ability of the county to pay. We've said that compensation is 80 percent of the budget. If you're going to reduce the budget, you've got to be looking at that."



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