2021 | Politics

County unions take aim at Riemer over his wife’s job at Pfizer

Council member says he followed disclosure requirements, calls attack ‘outrageous’

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Council Member Hans Riemer

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Three Montgomery County labor unions are targeting County Council Member Hans Riemer over his wife’s job with Pfizer and his call for mandatory vaccinations for county employees.

Riemer’s wife, Angela Riemer, is a vice president of federal government relations for Pfizer, a manufacturer of one of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use in the United States.

The unions asked whether Hans Riemer has a conflict of interest as he pushes for a mandatory vaccination policy for county employees. “Is he striving to protect the public health or to appease the source of a majority of his household income?,” the unions’ statement says.

Riemer, though, said he has followed disclosure requirements over his wife’s work and his family’s income.

He blasted the allegations as “outrageous” and called on County Executive Marc Elrich to stand up to the unions’ tactics.

Angela Riemer did not respond to an email from Bethesda Beat on Tuesday seeking comment. Additionally, a representative from Pfizer’s corporate headquarters did not respond to an email from Bethesda Beat on Tuesday.

When a reporter asked Hans Riemer on Monday about talking to Angela Riemer for this story, he said he did not think it would be appropriate because the focus shouldn’t be on her. In response to a follow-up request from Bethesda Beat on Tuesday, Hans Riemer said he would ask his wife if she is willing to talk with a reporter, but added that she might need permission from Pfizer’s corporate office.

Riemer and Council Member Will Jawando have pushed for the vaccination mandate, proposing a bill that could lead to the county firing employees who don’t comply. The bill allows for medical exemptions.

Elrich favors vaccination or testing, and has denounced council members’ approach as counterproductive and putting the county at risk of labor shortages, diminished public safety and legal challenges.

Last weekend, the leaders of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, which represents police officers; United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 MCGEO, representing county government employees; and the Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association posted a statement online alleging that Angela Riemer’s job and the couple’s stock holdings in Pfizer constitute “strong financial ties” to the company.

With the statement, the three unions shared a link to Hans Riemer’s financial disclosure statement from last year, which states that he bought Pfizer stock in March 2017 as part of his wife’s compensation package and that it has a value of $50,001 to $100,000.

It states that Pfizer does not do business with Montgomery County government.

The unions ask questions about how much money Hans Riemer receives from Pfizer and how much his stock holdings are worth now.

“Before Mr. Riemer holds forth on anything promoting the approved Pfizer vaccine, the public deserves to know the extent of his connection to the firm and any possible conflicts of interest that may arise,” the unions wrote in the statement.

Gino Renne, the president of UFCW Local 1994 and a frequent critic of Riemer, told Bethesda Beat on Monday that at a minimum, the council member should be more open about the fact that he’s promoting a vaccination mandate “that could directly impact the value of the stock or the profits of the manufacturer or the provider.”

“I certainly have to disclose the interest of me and my family, my wife has under labor laws that govern union leaders, and also as a board of trustees member for Montgomery County pension funds. So why is he different? That’s the question,” Renne said.

But Riemer told Bethesda Beat on Monday called the union’s attacks “outrageous” and “hardcore anti-vax politics.”

“This assertion that getting a few hundred more, or maybe a few thousand more, county employees vaccinated somehow is going to have an impact on the stock price of Pfizer is just absurd, it’s preposterous and it’s disgusting,” he said.

Riemer said he’s proud of his wife for her work at Pfizer, and that she’s his “hero.”

“Yes, all of her income comes from Pfizer. Pfizer is her employer, and we’re proud of that,” he said. “And obviously, as a routine matter of financial disclosure, I reported all of my family’s income and its sources. And so that’s just routine financial disclosure reporting, where me and my spouse earn any income that we have.”

The county attorney’s office did not respond to an email from Bethesda Beat on Tuesday seeking comment. A receptionist in the office said she would pass the inquiry along.

Riemer, who is term-limited and challenging Elrich in next year’s county executive race, invoked his opponent’s name on Monday.

“Marc Elrich should be ashamed for being on this team with a bunch of Trump-loving deplorable anti-vaxers who are making this pandemic last longer and hurt more people than it should,” he said.

Even though Elrich’s name is not part of the unions’ statement, Riemer said it was still relevant because the county executive is opposed to the council’s vaccination mandate.

“He should be a leader in telling them to stand down, because they’re his allies. They are as thick as thieves, and they look to him for guidance and leadership. And instead of telling them  to do the right thing, he’s sitting back and watching them attack me and my family,” Riemer said.

Elrich told Bethesda Beat on Tuesday that he had nothing to do with the unions’ statement.

“And he can defend himself. I don’t know whether this is a conflict of interest or not. I didn’t ask an attorney. I don’t know what they would say if they were asked this question,” he said.

Elrich said he “doesn’t have any reason” to defend Riemer, and that “the unions’ beef with Hans is a lot longer and a lot deeper than this.”

Elrich added that Riemer’s assertion that he is opposed to a vaccination mandate is “absolutely not true.”

“Hans is saying I’m opposed to a vaccine mandate. I’m not opposed to a vaccine mandate. What I’ve been saying all along is that we’ve got to make sure that we don’t wind up not being able to operate critical infrastructure and critical programs in the county,” he said.

Elrich said he’s particularly concerned about police officers, firefighters and workers at the county jail when it comes to making sure a vaccination mandate doesn’t lead to shortages in those departments if workers quit.

“I have no problem with the idea of mandates. I wish the federal government would mandate everybody to get vaccinated. … But that said, I want to make sure that if we go down that road, which I’d hope the council would be interested in, they don’t wind up unable to staff the jail, or I don’t have enough paramedics, for example, to staff the fire stations,” he said.

Elrich added that Riemer never spoke to anyone in the executive branch before introducing the mandate legislation last week.

Renne said on Monday that it’s important to emphasize that county employees are not opposed to vaccinations. Rather, the unions are figuring out how many members are still unvaccinated and are encouraging them to get vaccinated.

“I have directed my entire staff to reach out to each and every member I personally make personal contact [with] and advise them that the county’s records show that they have not reported [their vaccination status] yet,” he said.

Renne said Riemer should have called the unions before going ahead with the mandate, but didn’t. The unions planned to meet with Jawando this week, Renne said on Monday.

“[Riemer] never called,” Renne said. “So, the question becomes, why wouldn’t you call? You’re promoting mandating a working condition which we don’t believe they have the authority to do.

“You’re circumventing collective bargaining that you know is in progress. And you’re drawing lines in the sand. It’s not their workforce. They’re not the employer.”

Riemer said on Monday that he would welcome a conversation with the county employee unions about the vaccination mandate.

“I always talk to them. I talk to them any time they reach out to me,” he said.

Riemer added that in a text message to Bethesda Beat that the federal government purchased all of the Pfizer doses.

“We just need people to take them,” he wrote.

Businessman David Blair, who is running against Elrich and Riemer for the Democratic nomination for county executive in 2022, told Bethesda Beat on Thursday that a vaccinate mandate such as the one the council has proposed makes sense.

“Yes, the county should mandate that it’s employees should get vaccinated. It’s for their own health. It’s for the health of all of our residents. It’s simple. It’s science. Vaccinations save lives,” he said.

Asked about Elrich’s proposal of figuring out how many employees are yet to be vaccinated, rather than an across-the-board mandate, Blair said it was the county executive’s “go-to move.”

“So, rather than being decisive, rather than acting as a leader, he calls for a study,” he said.  

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