Prince George's Employees Clash with Johnson
Members of AFSCME unions that represent 2,000 county employees in Prince George's have voted to reject a request by county leaders to renegotiate the terms of their contract.
Facing a $48 million budget shortfall in the tightening economy, County Executive Jack B. Johnson had asked all of the county's employee unions to return to the negotiating table to talk about reducing the sizes of their raises for the coming year. Without new talks, Johnson said it might be necessary to layoff some workers.
But Wanda Shelton Martin, a staff representative for the union, said about 350 employees met last week and rejected that ultimatum. She said employees need their contracted raises -- which amount to 2.5 percent for the increase in cost-of-living and 3.5 percent merit raises for employees who earn them -- to pay for the rising prices of gas and food. And she said workers believe the county can trim costs without resorting to employee raises.
"Our considered opinion is that the revenue decline that you now predict is neither new in its origin nor unexpected," AFSCME Council 67 Executive Director Glenard S. Middleton Sr. wrote in a letter to Johnson. "We will not 'reopen' or approve of concessions to those contracts. It is the County's obligation to pay its bills when and as they come due, just as we must pay ours for our households."
Shelton Martin noted the county sets aside about 7 percent of its revenues each year in a rainy day fund, though the county charter only requires saving 5 percent.
"The rainy day funds can be used for operations," she said. "If you can't pay your workers running your county, I think it's raining."
She said workers were also upset because there has been no official announcement that the nine council members and Johnson himself will give up their own cost-of-living raises this year. According to county law, Johnson and the council receive a cost of living increase each Dec. 1 that is tied to the annual increase in the DC area Consumer Price Index.
County spokesman John Erzen said he believes the council and Johnson intend to share the hit, when the unions agree to a deal.
But according to the county's charter, council votes to increase or decrease pay for themselves or the executive cannot become effective until after an election has passed -- in this case, not until 2010.
Other county unions, including the Fraternal Order of Police and the professional firefighters' association, have not yet announced how they plan to respond to Johnson's request to reopen their contracts. Erzen said negotiations are ongoing.
"We are going to continue to talk to all of them in hopes of reaching a mutual agreement," he said.
July 15, 2008; 11:19 AM ET
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