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Topics: Labor Unions

Montgomery County union pay raises head to council after committee OK

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Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson,Labor unions,Montgomery County

A trio of contracts giving three Montgomery County unions two year, double-digit pay raises will head to the County Council intact, after a council committee voted to recommend the increases on Thursday.

In total, the contracts would cost about $105.3 million over two years.

Members of the council's Government Operations Committee recommended the contracts -- which would give raises to members of the county's firefighters, police and employee unions -- move to the County Council for approval.

The council will vote only on one year of the contracts, which cost about $31.6 million, and will revisit the contracts in fiscal 2014 for the remaining $73.7 million.

The two-year contracts would give firefighters a 19.5 percent pay raise, police 14.7 percent and county employees 13.5 percent.

Council President Nancy Navarro, D-Eastern County, said employees have made big sacrifices over the past four years of pay freezes, and the contracts seemed reasonable considering how much they have lost.

Councilman Hans Riemer, D-at large, agreed, but said raises this large won't always happen, especially since the county is still in vulnerable financially.

"At the same time, as we improve these negotiated agreements [in the future] we all know that the new normal is here," he said, referencing a weakened economy. "The days of 10 percent annual increases in county spending is not going to come back. We need to maintain modest increases."

Union leaders from all three organizations addressed members after the committee's vote. Gino Renne, president of the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization, told about 40 people that the contract was a step in the right direction for the unions.

"This is just the beginning of getting out of those bad times," he said, referencing the four years where employees did not get pay raises and only received $2,000 bonuses for one year. "I don't anticipate any problems [at council]."

John Sparks, president of the firefighters' union, said they're hoping to get eight of the nine council votes.

Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville, has been the only council member to speak out against the pay raises, saying they're too high and not sustainable.

Some residents have expressed concern over the pay raises and what the $105.3 million price tag could mean for an already cash-strapped county. County officials warned earlier this month the budget for fiscal 2015 might be about $300 million, almost double the gap seen in fiscal 2014.

County spokesman Patrick Lacefield has dismissed that claim, saying the county has saved $263 million by not increasing pay for four years. With a better economic climate now, he said, employees deserve to be better compensated.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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