The Montgomery County teachers union is hoping a tentative deal giving members of the county's employees union a 13.5 percent raise will mean more leverage for them in their negotiations.
Tom Israel, executive director of the Montgomery County Education Association, which represents more than 12,000 public school teachers and employees, said the proposed contract could mean a better deal for teachers as the MCEA negotiates with the school board over employee compensation for next fiscal year.
"This is certainly an indicator that [County Executive Ike Leggett] feels the county budget is improving," Israel said.
Cash-strapped Montgomery County faces a $134 million shortfall in fiscal 2014, and county officials have predicted a 5 percent budget cut across all county departments. Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr has proposed a budget that is $10 million more than what is required by state law, which some members of the County Council have criticized as too much.
Last year, Montgomery County Public Schools employees got a 3.4 percent retroactive raise after the school system found a last-minute surplus, which raised some ire among county officials and workers.
When examining a new deal for county teachers, Israel said the MCEA looks at various strategies from the region -- including contracts like the one for the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization -- but also federal, state and surrounding counties' employee contracts.
Mike Whitty, an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco whose expertise includes unions and labor practices, said that is a fairly common strategy in the public sector. When unions want more money, they might point to other unions covered by the same budget or to organizations similar in size as examples of why they deserve more, he said.
But the biggest hurdle unions face is whether they can get county officials and taxpayers to buy into the need for more money, especially in hard economic times. For Montgomery County, Whitty said the lack of funds means someone is going to be left out as officials weigh their options.
"A lot of it falls on public-sector management being competent," he said, citing cities such as Detroit where union leaders and public officials failed to be flexible and frugal.
MCGEO President Gino Renne said there is a disparity between raises for teachers and raises for other government employees. He thinks the County Council knows it is unfair that the teachers union has more "economic well-being," and he isn't worried about a potential fight for funds that could occur.
"It's not going to be an easy conversation," he said. "It's going to be, I'm sure, a robust conversation about the overfunding of our agreement, but they need to make funding of the agreement a priority."