This year county voters will face Question “D” on the ballot, a proposed charter amendment that “will require the County Council to provide by ordinance for binding arbitration by a neutral arbitrator whose decision MUST be funded by the county budget”. Most voters don’t fully understand the impact of this charter amendment and will simply vote yes, because of the misleading way this question has been packaged and sold to the public by the career firefighters union. This has been falsely marketed in a way that makes the public believe that if “Question D” does not pass public safety response by fire/rescue will be in jeopardy, firefighters endangered and lives will be at risk. This is simply not true, responses and safety will NOT be affected. Also to be very clear, the volunteer fire service is not involved in this effort.
If Question D passes the facts are; binding arbitration will be extremely costly to Frederick County taxpayers, and will remove certain budgetary, management, and negotiating authority out of the hands of the county executive and council YOU elect. No reasonable or informed elected official or executive would favor this. Decisions that will have a tremendous long lasting impact on budgets and tax dollars will be made by an outside independent arbitrator who has no vested interest in Frederick County, no consideration of fiscal limitations, and no incentive to keep costs down. The arbitrator’s final decisions will stand for the long term without consideration of the expense to local government and taxpayers.
The County Executive will be forced to relinquish certain executive authorities to make decisions related to pay, certain benefits, and management rights. The current rub with the career firefighters is largely the salary scale, which by most accounts is lacking and no longer competitive for recruitment and retention. The most recent collective bargaining negotiations between the County Executive and Union Local #3666 Career Firefighters resulted in no current contract, and has been the driving force behind this wedge issue. However the county has contracted a jointly selected independent consultant to conduct a comprehensive wage and benefit survey.
I am not opposed to the career firefighters as an employee group or collective bargaining, and in fact may be their best friend currently holding elected office and as a 35-year volunteer. There is no argument from anyone that firefighters and EMTs deserve fair and competitive salaries commensurate with their line of work, but wages and other considerations must be based on factual information.
The career firefighters currently have collective bargaining rights similar to sworn Deputy Sheriffs and Correctional Officers, rightfully so as they are all uniformed employee groups. Their jobs that are in fact different than other jobs and may deserve some unique considerations. Having collective bargaining as an employee group is fair and reasonable and allows the career firefighters to obtain the pay and some benefits, aside from the normal county employee benefits that they deserve and should have. When I was first elected Sheriff in 2006, the uniform collective bargaining contract was a basic salary agreement consisting of four sentences on one page, attached to a salary scale. The current agreement between the Sheriff and the FOP 102 is eleven pages containing what are fair and reasonable wage components and benefits specific to law e-n f o r cement working conditions, and a competitive market adjusted salary scale. A labor committee was also formed to work with management to address issues that may arise during the contract period.
This has been accomplished over time through collective bargaining without binding arbitration, between negotiating parties who have been reasonable with demands and expectations, and a sense of fairness with respect to the employees. Another aspect of concern is a fairness/equity issue with regard to other county employees who have no right to bargain for salary and benefits. As an executive manager or head of an agency, there is no way to explain or justify how one group of employees are treated differently or favored over another.
Given that no other elected official will speak out honestly on this question, I believe I have an obligation to inform the county voters as to the negative impact of binding arbitration within county government. A yes vote on Question D will be extremely costly to the taxpayer, handcuff the county executive and council, and negatively affect county public safety overall while benefiting one group of employees. This will in no way benefit the volunteer fire service but in fact will potentially damage the volunteer system.
A NO vote on the question will benefit all of public safety in the long term, is fair and equitable to all county employees regardless of their jobs, and is mindful of the tax paying citizens of Frederick County. The career firefighters can get where they need to be with fair and competitive salary and benefits under current collective bargaining, without binding arbitration. I urge the citizens of Frederick County to vote ”No” on Question D. Voting yes would be extremely costly!
Sheriff Chuck Jenkins