13 percent pay boost tentatively agreed by Montgomery County, employee union

February 12, 2013

Montgomery County and its 5,000-member government employees union have reached tentative agreement on a two-year contract that will give most workers more than 13 percent in cost-of-living and longevity increases over the next two years.

The accord, which represents the first pay increases in four years, calls for most union members to receive 6.75 percent in cost-of-living adjustments and longevity or “step” increases in each of the next two years. A summary of the package was posted Monday on the Web site of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 Municipal and County Government Employees.

The contract, which must be ratified by union members and the County Council, is a marked reversal from several years of wage freezes and benefits cuts, driven by a recession that blew huge holes in county budgets.

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has signaled in recent public meetings an interest in raising compensation after the lean years. Pressure may also have increased in 2012, when Montgomery school officials announced the first teacher pay raises in three years. Other county workers, by comparison, received a one-time $2,000 lump sum bonus last year.

The size of the package is likely to spark debate on the council. Montgomery officials still expect a $134 million gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The county also faces a financial squeeze from the state’s “maintenance of effort law” that requires it to maintain per-pupil funding in public schools, adjusted for increases in enrollment.

Officials estimate that to meet those requirements in fiscal 2014, other county agencies will face a 5 percent cut.

Leggett, who is weighing whether to run for a third term in 2014, declined to comment on the proposed contract, citing pending negotiations with the county’s police and fire unions.

County Council President Nancy Navarro (D-Mid-County) said it was too early to assess the contract. But she added that she was eager to hear Leggett’s explanation: “He has been quite measured in the past three years. That’s why it’s interesting to see why he has gone to this particular level.”

Amy Millar, growth and strategic planning coordinator for Local 1994, said the union was gratified by Leggett’s willingness to negotiate.

“It’s a good contract, but the reality is it represents a portion of the tens of millions of dollars our members have lost in the last few years,” she said.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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