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Maryland Politics
Posted at 12:25 PM ET, 02/15/2012

Montgomery employees may receive $2,000 bonus

The government union for Montgomery County has secured a temporary agreement with county officials for a three-year contract, union officials announced Tuesday.

According to union officials, full-time unionized employees will get a lump sum bonus of $2,000. Part-time employees will receive a pro-rated amount, union officials said.

The contract, if approved by union members, would also reinstate wage increases to those who work at the county for at least 20 years. The increase would be equal to 3 percent of the current salary.

Officials for the union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 Municipal and County Government Employees, say they hope to get the voting on the contract completed by mid-March.

Some council officials said the contract seems rather modest. There are no cost-of-living increases or other wage increases for all the union employees. And the 3 percent increase would only effect about 160 unionized workers.

But it is also the first real bonus to employees in several years, county officials said. Employees have had to suffer wage freezes and even furloughs in recent years, they said.

“It is not as robust as we were several years ago, but in terms of our financial conditions, this is the best that we are able to do,” said Joe Adler, the county’s human resources director.

Union president Gino Renne said he understands that the government is still facing tough economic times and that he is glad that they are working in the direction of providing wage increases.

Negotiations leading up to the tentative agreement appeared to be significantly calmer than last year’s, in which union officials and county officials butted heads when County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) decided to ignore an arbitration ruling when he proposed his operating budget. The skirmish ended up in court, where judges ruled in Leggett’s favor.

Union officials have pointed to an increased push from both sides to cooperate since last year’s standoff. A human resources employee hired early last year — Steven Sluchansky — has also helped to foster the cooperation, union officials said. Sluchansky did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Union officials and county officials will also discuss the possibility of changing the employees’ retirement system. In the early 1990s, Renne and other union officials agreed to switch the employee retirement plan from a pension, which had a set payout, to the public-employee equivalent of a 401(k), which does not ensure any minimum payout and carries much less risk for the employer.

When the stock market took a dive during the “Great Recession,” the county’s retirement plans took a similar beating. Union officials have been trying to shift the plan to a “hybrid” model, with aspects of both a pension and a 401(k), similar to the retirement plan used by the federal government.

The union has offered its own version of the hybrid plan, but the county says it needs more analysis done, Renne said. Union officials said they will continue to the discuss the plan with the county over the next year.

Union and county officials will also work on trying to create a wellness program to cut health care costs. This agreement is in line with a recommendation made by the county’s health care and wellness task force in recent months.

Local 1994 has more than 5,000 career employees.

By  |  12:25 PM ET, 02/15/2012

 
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