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Maryland's Highest Court Upholds Council Move to Cut Police Union's Benefits

The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled the Montgomery County Council can cut pay and benefits negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement with police.

The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled the Montgomery County Council can cut pay and benefits negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement with police. File|Patch
The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled the Montgomery County Council can cut pay and benefits negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement with police. File|Patch

The union representing Montgomery County Police officers has lost a third court challenge in its battle over retirement and health benefits.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the Montgomery County Council acted within its power in 2011 when it decided not to pay for retirement and health benefits included in a collective bargaining agreement, reports The Washington Post.

The state’s highest court on Friday upheld two lower court rulings saying, in essence, that because the County Council controls the money spent by county government, it is not bound by labor contracts negotiated by the union and the County Executive.

When the council rejected a 3.5 percent salary increase and other retirement and health benefits proposed by police in the FY 2012 budget, leaders did not violate collective bargaining law, the court decided. The union representing Montgomery officers, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, sued on behalf of police officers, arguing that the council did not have the authority to change the benefits package.

The two sides have been battling since the 2011 contract change. Last month, a state circuit court judge ruled that County Executive Isiah Leggett and public information director Patrick Lacefield violated Maryland election law by using public money to campaign for the 2012 ballot proposition that eliminated certain collective bargaining rights for police. While that court sided with police, the judge did not award any damages to police. Both sides are appealing the ruling.

The Post says Leggett, who by law negotiates collective bargaining agreements and submits them to the council for funding, in 2010 reopened the second year of an existing two-year contract with the police union as a way to trim costs. A neutral arbitrator ruled in favor of the police union’s proposal for a 3.5 percent wage hike.

In May 2011, the council rejected the settlement and later passed a 2012 budget that excluded the 3.5 percent pay increase. It also changed the existing contract provisions covering police pensions, prescription drugs and group insurance.

Darla Tagrin April 22, 2014 at 09:04 AM
This renders any contracts with the state essentially meaningless since the County Council can decide whether to honor them or not.

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