Council Rebuffs County Union's Contract, Calls for Parity in Raises

Council Rebuffs County Union’s Contract, Calls for Parity in Raises

Council questioned 9% raises, straw vote sends parties back to negotiating table

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About 250 members of MCGEO packed the County Council's chambers Tuesday

Dan Schere

Montgomery County will go back to the contract bargaining table with its largest employees union after the County Council Tuesday afternoon rejected a budget proposal that would grant some workers raises of more than 9%.

Several hundred employees represented by the Local 1994 MCGEO union attended the council meeting after there were growing indications that the nine-member council was unsettled by the cost of the pay raises and whether they were sustainable in light of predictions of a slowing economy.

“I’ve done tons for other people and I haven’t gotten jack squat,” yelled Jeffrey Noel-Nosbaum, dressed in a yellow shirt, representing Montgomery County’s 7,000-member union.

The contract, as proposed, includes pay raises of up to 9.4% for some county employees. The increases were included as “make up steps” from previous years following the 2008 recession when the council voted not to fully fund MCGEO contracts.

The council has rejected negotiated contracts in the past, said county spokesman Neil Greenberger, but it is rare. Greenberger said the years following the recession left the county without the revenue that would be needed to fund the contracts.

“Similar things were happening around the nation with local governments. The Montgomery County unions interpreted these actions not as raises that would not be honored, but as raises that were going to be deferred,” he said.

MCGEO President Gino Renne said he is optimistic the county and union can come to an agreement “that both sides can live with.”

“It [the contract] was a product of four long months of negotiations and then five days of mediation, and we came up with what both parties believed was a fair and reasonable deal, given equity to other bargaining units, the current cost of living and other factors. But obviously the council didn’t see it that way,” Renne said.

Council member Tom Hucker said members had been discussing Tuesday’s scheduled straw vote for the past week and the majority of members were against the MCGEO contract as it stands.

“Our county executive sent us a MCGEO contract that has a proposed $14.84 million impact on fiscal 2020,” said council member Craig Rice, who proposed that the county executive go back to the negotiating table to pare down the contract and asked that he “seek parity with increases similar to those negotiated for parity in other bargaining units.”

Rice and other council members said they would be comfortable with an increase of close to 6%, which is similar to the amount members of the police and firefighters union will receive.

“We would like to see some parity, and this is the rough number that the other employee associations have negotiated,” Council President Nancy Navarro said following the meeting.

Council member Andrew Friedson wrote in a statement that the vote was “not one he took lightly” but that he couldn’t “support a compensation package that we know is unaffordable.”

“Our residents rightfully expect that we live within our means and today’s action reflects that expectation,” he wrote.

But Hucker said he believed it was possible to fund the contract as it was written. He said make up steps have been a “sore subject” in the county for years because previous councils funded make-up steps for other unions.

“It’s only fair for them [MCGEO] to be asking for it and us to be funding it,” Hucker said.

Marvin Henderson, a 12-year county government employee who is a fiscal assistant in the Department of General Services, said he wasn’t disappointed with the vote, but will be upset if he does not get his full 9.4% raise.

“We’re going to see how the process plays out,” Henderson said. “I knew it wasn’t gonna be easy. Everything’s a fight.”

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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