The Montgomery County Council passed a bill yesterday giving "one of the highest priorities to the full funding" of annual cost of living raises for county employes but falling short of the guarantee employes had hoped for.
"The deal last spring (when the pay plan was approved in principle) was that we would get a guaranteed cost of living. We didn't get one." Kate Dolan, a member of the county Public Libraries Staff Association, complained as angry employes left the council hearing.
Employes claim that they agreed to a pay plan that reduced their annual raises from 5 to 2 percent only in return for a promise of a cost living raise each year.
County personnel director Ron Lloyd, who urged the council to adopt a stronger bill yesterday, said that he is inclined to recommend that County Executive James P. Gleason veto the bill. Gleason had threatened to veto an earlier version passed by the council Tuesday.
"The bill is substantively the same as the one passed Tuesday," said Lloyd. "They put some new words in there but it really boils down to less than the commitment we sought."
But Council member John Menke, who proposed the approved language as well as the version that sent employes into an uproar Tuesday, said that it "provides better protection to employes, better than anything else that has been proposed here."
The bill, he said, would "force the council" to provide money for the cost-of-living increase unless it can justify not doing so.
It also would require the county's chief administrative officer to pay the wage increase unless the council does not provide the money or makes a finding that "implementation of the full amount would necessitate substantial layoffs of personnel or result in other widespread hardship to county government employes."
Yesterday's 6-to-0 vote came after four hours of debate and three days of sometimes bitter exchanges among the council, the Gleason administration, employes and the press over what the council actually had meant when it voted 3-to-2 on Tuesday to fund the cost of living raise "to the extent funds are provided in the approved budget."
Although Menke, who wrote that phrase as an amendment to Gleason's original bill, said that he intended it as a means of stating the council's obligation to make the necessary money available, employes and Gleasons' staff interpreted it as a "diminishing" of an earlier cost-of-living agreement with employes.
Under the agreement reached last spring, Gleason proposed a drastic revision of the employes pay plan. Chiefly, that plan decreased annual merit raises in exchange for what Gleason and the employes regarded as a "guaranteed" cost of living raise of not less than 75 percent of the yearly rise in the inflation index.
At that time, the council unanimously passed a resolution adopting that "policy."
But Tuesday, in the second vote required for the cost-of-living provision, Menke substituted some new language qualifying the council's responsibility to make the necessary funds available. That action was interpreted by Gleason, the employes and the two council members who opposed it as "reneging" on the previous commitment.
Gleason immediately charged that the council had "seriously the council had "seriously undermine(d) some important initiatives taken by the administration and heretofore supported by the County Council."
Yesterday, as the council met to find a compromise, more than 600 employes filled the council auditorium, frequently breaking into applause or hissing. Most wore yellow badges with a cartoon of an employe being pierced by a large screw.
Their bitterness was underscored by the formal speech of employes' leader Jack Jardeleza who accused Menke of "vindictiveness" and questioned the "honorability" of the council.
Attempts at finding a compromise resulted in several 3-to-3 votes, with council members Neal Potter, Esther Gelman and Menke on one side and William Colman, Elizabeth Scull and Jane Anne Moore on the other.
But Colman, Scull and Moore said they reluctantly voted for the bill in preference to the only other apparent course of action - permanently tabling it.