Montgomery County lawmakers accused County Executive Ike Leggett's administration of botching a recent labor arbitration with the county police union.
The County Council last year passed a two-tiered disability retirement system for county police and nonpublic safety employees, creating a partial disability benefit of 52.5 percent of an employee's final pay and a full disability benefit of 70 percent.
The Council offered the union the opportunity to come up with a better suggestion in bargaining but reserved the right to stick with the legislation they passed, which takes effect July 1.
When Office of Human Resources Director Joseph Adler began arbitration with the local Fraternal Order of Police, he presented a costlier three-tiered system with benefits of 60 percent of final pay for partial disability, 66.7 percent for full disability and 90 percent -- which amounts to more than 100 percent since the benefits are tax-free -- for a new category of "catastrophic" disability.
In fact, the union came to the table with the same three tiers. The differences between the two sides were that the county wanted benefits reduced when a retiree hits Social Security age and removed entirely when a retiree is convicted of a crime. Since the county was unable to give evidence supporting either aspect, arbitrator Walt De Treux's written opinion explains, De Treux sided with the union.
Councilmembers at a joint committee meeting Wednesday were appalled, particularly at the comments in De Treux's opinion claiming that the county failed to give any supporting examples for its case.
"You submitted to the arbitrator an agreement in which you and the FOP had reached an agreement on three tiers that cost more than the legislation that we adopted, but you said, 'That's OK because we're going to get those dollars back by linking this to Social Security.' And yet when you go to arbitration and you argue that issue, you are not able to point to a single jurisdiction anywhere that has made such a linkage," said Council President Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda. "What I'm struggling with is how you expected to win."
Councilman Marc Elrich, D-at large, suggested the Council might be able to do a better job with the bargaining process.
But Leggett said the councilmembers simply don't understand how the process works. The arbitrator has to pick one side's proposal or the other's. He cannot pick bits and pieces from the two.
Though Adler walked into bargaining with the two-tiered system, what he went to arbitration with is a different matter, Leggett said, adding that the claims the county didn't have support for its proposal are "a bunch of baloney."