A revised contract with smaller raises for members of the county’s main government union cleared the Montgomery County Council Monday on a 7-2 vote.
Council members last month sent the Local 1994 MCGEO union back to the bargaining table after refusing to fund a contract that would have given pay increases of up to 9.4% to 1,200 county employees.
The renegotiated contract, finalized Friday, will have increases between 6% and 7% and comes days before the council is to vote on the county’s $5.6 billion operating budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.
“From the get-go I was a bit bothered that the [county] executive chose to negotiate this contract in the way that he did, because of the fiscal issues,” council President Nancy Navarro said. “But I do think this strikes a good balance.”
Some union members were expected to get a 3.5% “make up step” after some pay increases were deferred following the 2008 recession.
The compromise changes that step to 1% in fiscal 2020 and also reduces a general wage increase from 2.4% to 2.25% and drops a $1,200 lump sum payment to $1,000.
Following the 1% make up step, the council recommended additional service increments of 1.25% each be implemented in fiscal 2021 and 2022.
MCGEO President Gino Renne said he thought the compromise was fair, but he was disappointed that the council “saw fit to take money out of our members’ pockets.”
“It’s unfortunate, because I think what continues to be lost in this conversation is that saving a couple million dollars or so to repackage a collectively bargained agreement has no impact on sustainability going forward,” he said.
The council also voted unanimously Monday to approve 2.25% pay increases for non-union county employees. Renne said he found it ironic that some of the top-tier non-union county employees will end up receiving raises four times the dollar amount that MCGEO members will make at that same rate.
“We had to struggle to get a reasonable raise for workers, but yet the council unanimously extended the same raise to folks who get an actual dollar amount at disproportionately higher rates. So I’m stepping back and trying to understand where these council members’ heads are,” he said.
Renne added that he is considering hiring a consultant to audit the county’s budget in order to get a better understanding of why council member’s feel the MCGEO contract as written was unsustainable.
Council members appeared to be divided on how committed they were to funding the future pay increases.
According to a memo sent from County Executive Marc Elrich to Navarro, the renegotiated contract reduces the compensation cost in the budget by $4 million, when combined with similar reductions to non-union employees.
Council members had been divided on whether to support the original contract, but voted unanimously to send the parties back to the negotiating table on April 30 after a week of internal deliberations.
Navarro said Monday it would be “disingenuous” for the council not to approve the renegotiated union contract when the council had drawn up a budget reconciliation list that includes an additional $28 million in programs for the county for the upcoming fiscal year.
Council members Hans Riemer and Andrew Friedson opposed the union contract on the basis that it didn’t go far enough.
“I am concerned that compensation overall is growing faster than revenue,” Riemer said.
Riemer said despite his opposition, he believes the county employees deserve a raise. At that point, several MCGEO members in the audience yelled, “then give one.”
“I don’t think this one meets the goals that we want to achieve,” he said.
In an interview, Riemer said he is worried that a future recession could exacerbate revenue shortfalls, making even a 6% pay raise in the contract unsustainable.
“You have to understand, it’s not like this is the first year it’s been at that level. And that’s kind of the real issue. We’re just bursting at the seams here. This would have been a good time to cool it down a little bit and be careful. Instead it’s sort of accelerating it,” he said.
Budget Director Rich Madaleno said following the meeting that Elrich continues to believe the original agreement was sustainable, as the largest raises would only have applied to 10% of county employees.
“That being said, we were happy we could get an overwhelming vote out the council for this agreement and move forward with the budget,” he said.
Council Vice President Sidney Katz said he supported the compromise, but wants to change the MCGEO negotiation process in the future to ensure that the council has a say in the process between the county executive and the union.
“We should work to get to a place where we don’t have this kind of discussion and disagreement,” he said.
Madaleno said he agreed with Katz’s sentiment, but wasn’t sure if it was practical.
“I totally understand his concern, because it’s important to know the framework of the council … I think we have to carefully thin through what the implications are in good times and bad times of what increased council participation would look like. It’s essential to know where they are. On the other hand, I don’t think anyone wants a collective bargaining system where the unions are sitting down and negotiating with 10 different people,” he said.
The council is expected to vote on Elrich’s full fiscal 20 budget by the end of the month.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org