One item on the Ballot in Frederick County this year seems to be getting a lot of attention. The item, known as Question D, is a proposal by the Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County to amend Frederick County’s Charter, the document that lays out how Frederick County’s Government will be formed and how it work, much like a constitution for a state or our country.
The Career Firefighter’s want to add the following to the Frederick County Charter:
“705. Right to Organize, Collectively Bargain, and Binding Arbitration for Career Fire Fighters
(a) Career fire fighters shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively regarding wages, benefits, working conditions and/or terms and conditions of employment through representative employee organizations of their own choosing as provided by ordinance of the County Council.
(b) In addition to the rights granted in subsection (a) of this Section to organize and bargain collectively, the County Council shall provide by ordinance for binding arbitration with authorized representatives of the appropriate employee bargaining unit in order to resolve labor disputes with the County’s career fire fighters. The ordinance shall provide for the appointment of a neutral arbitrator by the parties to the arbitration who shall issue a binding decision to be implemented as part of the following year’s budget process.”
Outside of the Chief Administrative Officer, County Attorney, and Department Heads, the County Charter does not define anything pertaining to employees of Frederick County Government.
Not one item in the Charter references what would normally be considered a human resources matter. Nothing in the Charter directs the County Executive nor the County Council in matters of working conditions, wages, benefits, or terms and conditions of employment. In fact, the Charter neither compels nor denies elected leaders from collective bargaining. Employees and HR matters do not fall into the scope of Frederick County’s Charter.
Frederick County Public Local Law, however, currently limits collective bargaining for firefighters to “wages and benefits.”
“§ 2-8-7. Collective bargaining.
(A) (1) In this section the following words have the meanings indicated.
(2) “Collective bargaining” does not include a meeting in which only representatives of the board of county commissioners are in attendance or a meeting in which only representatives of the exclusive representative are in attendance.
(3) “Employee” means a regular, nonexempt, uniformed employee within the Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services or other employee within the Division of Fire and Rescue Services, as determined by the board of county commissioners.
(4) “Employee organization” means a labor or other organization in which employees participate and that has representing employees as one of its primary purposes.
(5) “Exclusive representative” means the employee organization that has been certified through an election of eligible employees to represent and bargain for those employees over wages and benefits.
(B) The board of county commissioners may enact an ordinance to allow voluntary collective bargaining concerning wages and benefits between the board of county commissioners and the employee organization that the board of county commissioners recognizes as the exclusive representative of its employees.
(C) Once authorized by an ordinance, collective bargaining between the board of county commissioners and the exclusive representative may include a memorandum of understanding concerning wages and benefits.
(D) Subject to provisions concerning budgetary and fiscal procedures in state law or county ordinance, a memorandum of understanding between the board of county commissioners and an exclusive representative shall bind the board of county commissioners for the period of time that is stated in the agreement.
(E) The board of county commissioners may designate individuals to negotiate on its behalf with the exclusive representative.
(F) This section does not:
(1) Authorize or otherwise permit an employee to engage in a strike as defined in § 3-303 of the State Personnel and Pensions Article;
(2) Require any form of collective bargaining;
(3) Require any method, means, or scope of bargaining between the board of county commissioners and an exclusive representative; or
(4) Authorize binding interest arbitration.
(2005, Chapter 335, § 1)”
As such, Firefighters already have the right to organize and collectively bargain, and the contract between the county and the Association is binding. This section of the law restricts bargaining to wages and benefits. The County Council could easily expand this to include “working conditions and/or terms and conditions of employment.”
While section A of the proposed amendment could be resolved legislatively, Section B of the amendment, Binding Arbitration, draws the most ire of opponents to “Question D.” If “Question D” passes, the Charter compels the County Council to hire a neutral arbitrator “who shall issue a binding decision to be implemented as part of the following year’s budget process.”
In other words, the Career Firefighters would put forth their requests in a new contract, and the County Executive would put forth the county’s requests for a new contract. The arbitrator would decide what the new contract will require of the county in terms of “wages, benefits, working conditions and/or terms and conditions of employment.” Without any debate or changes to the contract, the County Council will be required by the Charter to fund any and all terms of the contract.
This year, the Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County’s contract with Frederick County expired June 30, 2018. That contract, negotiated through collective bargaining with the Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County, was ratified by County Executive Jan Gardner and Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County, MD Inc.’s President John P. Neary on June 29, 2016.
In April of 2018, County Executive Jan Gardner sent Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County, MD Inc.’s President Stephen G. Jones a new contract for Fiscal Year 2019 as negotiated through collective bargaining between Frederick County and Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County, MD Inc.
As noted above, Frederick County Public Local Law limits collective bargaining to wages and benefits. The table below compares the two contracts offerings in a general sense:
|Item||2016 – 2018 Contract||FY 2018 Contract|
|Union Leave||80 hours annually||100 hours annually|
|Pay Scale||· $4000 Bonus Incorporated into New Pay Structure;
· Step Increase;
· $3/hour additional for Integrated Medic ALS Services
|· New Pay Scale;
· Two Step Increases for most employees;
· One Step Increase for Newer Employees;
· No reductions based on new pay scale;
· Use of Union Proposed Seniority rather than County’s Rules;
· Implementation of Union’s Requested Holiday Pay Plan (double-time);
· Independent Study of Compensation and Work Load;
· $3/hour additional for Integrated Medic ALS Services
On May 4, 2018, Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County, MD Inc.’s President Stephen G. Jones informed County Executive Jan Gardner that 97% of his association voted against the contract. He noted that this is the first time the Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County has rejected a contract.
On May 16, 2018, County Executive Jan Gardner wrote to Mr. Jones expressing her disappointment in the outcome. She wrote that Frederick County would forge ahead with the Independent Study of Compensation to “lay the foundation for an appropriate service based pay scale.”
Due to the timeline required by the County Charter, Gardner noted there was no way to renegotiate a contract. By the time the contract was rejected, the budget had already been submitted to the County Council. The County Executive is required to submit a budget by April 15th of each year. The County Council is required to adopt the budget by May 31st.
In June of 2018, County Executive Gardner announced how she would use the funds that had been approved for the contract firefighters had rejected in May. The funds would be used as follows:
- A Wage, Benefit, and Workload Study comparing Frederick County firefighters with neighboring jurisdictions,
- Twenty-five new recruits hired and trained to fill thirteen vacant positions and twelve new positions (six for leave impact and six for ambulance staffing), and
- A Step Increase for qualified employees based on the pay scale from the 2016 contract.
The Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County, MD Inc. created a political committee named Firefighters of Frederick County for Collective Bargaining earlier this year to promote their cause. As of October 26, 2018, the committee had reported to the Maryland Board of Elections that it raised $218,680, spent $197,386.56, and had $18,480.44 in its bank account.
All of the money raised came from Firefighter Associations ($158,680 from the Career Firefighters of Frederick County, MD Inc, and $80,000 from the International Association of Fire Fighters).
The political committee paid $6727.50 in wages to three individuals. The $6000 of the wages went to Monica Weeks of Washington, D.C. Weeks is Vice President of Women’s March DC, and President of DC NOW, the DC chapter of the National Organization for Women.
According to filings with the Maryland Board of Elections, the Career Firefighters also paid:
- $120,480 to Grassroots, SG. LLC for “campaign workers,”
- $16,000 to Control Point Group LLC for “Survey/Polls”,
- $4574.47 to Classic Plus for Printing of Brochures, Billboards/Outdoor Advertising, and Yard Signs
- $281.45 to Home Depot for Materials for signs,
- $279.50 to Lowes for Material for signs, and
- $175.95 to Walmart for “Phones for phone bank.”
On October 26, 2018, the Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County, MD posted a job posting for “Election Day Paid Canvassers” paying $15 per hour. According to the ad, the Firefighters Association is “Seeking Election Day Canvassers to serve as the frontline staff for a non-partisan ballot initiative that will elevate the importance of Firefighters having a say in public safety in Frederick County, MD. Canvassers will conduct direct contact with community members at popular voting locations around Frederick County.”
Local Volunteer Fire Company’s have taken issue with advertisements stating “Firefighters Vote for Question D.” They note that Volunteer Fire Companies have not made any endorsement of Question D. The Walkersville Volunteer Fire Company recently gained attention for its sign stating that “Question D Does Not Support Volunteer Firefighters.” John Zimmerman, President of the Walkersville Volunteer Fire Company, has been very vocal in his opposition to both the use of “Firefighters” in advertising and the Ballot measure in general. He believes they should be clearly stating that “Career Firefighters” support this measure. “Volunteer Firefighters” as a group are not supporting the measure.