Unions accuse Montgomery officials of lying in fight over bargaining rights

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Photo - A Montgomery County police officer (Examiner file photo)
A Montgomery County police officer (Examiner file photo)
Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

The fight between Montgomery County's top political leaders and the police union got uglier Wednesday as the union accused lawmakers of lying in order to strip away the right to bargain management decisions.

"The county is throwing out a bunch of allegations and not a single bit of fact," said Marc Zifcak, former president of the county's police union.

Montgomery County lawmakers passed a law repealing the police's right to "effects bargaining" last year, and last month both the county's Republican and Democratic parties overwhelmingly voted to support the law. Now the Fraternal Order of Police is trying to overturn the law on the November ballot.

County officials have said that the police union was abusing the right -- making Police Chief Tom Manger bargain over whether officers have to check their email or wear yellow "Police" armbands.

"The issue is whether the chief should have to bargain a thing like [email]. It's ridiculous," said County Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville, who is the chairman of the council's Public Safety committee.

Effects bargaining created unreasonable monthslong delays over equipment distribution and changing police shifts, County Council President Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda, and County Executive Ike Leggett wrote in a letter to Democratic party leaders last month.

"It hurts public safety for the chief to be unreasonably delayed by the effects bargaining law and implementing things such as cameras in the cars, such as equipment distribution," Andrews said.

But Zifcak said Manger never tried to use the effects bargaining process, which includes a 51-day approval period, and instead chose to simply complain to elected officials that he couldn't get anything done.

No police officer ever refused to check his county email account, he said.

Effects bargaining amounts to a "good faith effort" by both the union and management to make sure managerial decisions don't negatively impact employees, said Johnnie Walker, who represents the Washington-area district of the American Federation of Government Employees, a branch of the AFL-CIO. For example, "if there's a shift change for police officers, it could definitely negatively impact them if they have child care or elderly care issues."

Zifcak and other union leaders also refuted the county's claims that the police union is the only one with the right to effects bargaining.

"In our contract, we don't have the words 'effects bargaining.' We have 'notice and opportunity,'" said John Sparks, president of the county's chapter of the International Association of Firefighters. He described a 30-day process that allows the union to comments on management decisions.

But unlike the police union, the firefighters' process isn't written into county law, said Andrews. "Just because they think they can bargain everything, doesn't mean they have a legal right."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner