The Montgomery County Council on Monday voted to approve a union contract for county workers that walked back some negotiated pay increases, saying the more modest hikes were better aligned with the county’s finances.
The 7-2 vote was an indication that the all-Democratic council is prepared to limit first-year County Executive Marc Elrich’s spending, including on items important to the labor unions that are a key part of his support base.
Last month, the council rejected the package the Elrich administration negotiated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 Municipal and County Government Employees Organization (MCGEO) and sent them back to the bargaining table.
Under that contract, about 1,200 MCGEO members were to get raises of as much as 9.4 percent — including a 3.5 percent step increase those members did not get in 2011, when the county was recovering from the recession. The council had requested the raises be more in line with the separate 3.5 percent step increase for those who aren’t already at the top of the pay scale and a general wage adjustment of 2.4 percent that contract mandated for the remaining MCGEO workers.
The union and Elrich’s office agreed to lower the general wage adjustment to 2.25 percent and keep the 3.5 percent step increase for all workers.
The makeup step for the 1,200 workers would be phased in over three years, with workers getting 1 percent beginning in January.
The increases begin at different points in the year, so employees won’t get the full amounts when the contract begins on July 1.
Since the contract is only for one year and is funded only in the fiscal 2020 budget, the council did not take action Monday on years two and three of that makeup step — although several council members said they plan to support the increases in future years.
A lump sum of $1,200 for workers not eligible for the step increment was reduced to $1,000.
“I certainly feel we found ourselves with a much more sustainable path moving forward,” said Council member Craig Rice (D-District 2), who met with negotiators for the union and the county executive.
MCGEO President Gino Renne said he was pleased the compromise had the support of most of the council, but “I’m still frustrated and disappointed we had to go back to the table and restructure the deal.”
Elrich wrote to the council on Friday saying that while he thought the previous contract was “a fair deal for workers and the county,” the new contract was an acceptable compromise between what the council wanted and the “past sacrifices” of county workers.
While the county executive negotiates with the unions, ultimate approval of the contracts rests with the council, and the council’s move last month to call for the contract to be renegotiated led to promises of political retribution from angry union members.
On Monday, council members Hans Riemer (D-At Large) and Andrew Friedson (D-District 1) cast the two votes against the renegotiated contract.
“I am concerned compensation overall is growing faster than revenues,” Riemer said as some union members jeered from the audience. “I certainly believe our county employees do deserve a raise, but I don’t think this one meets the goals I was hoping we would achieve.”
Council President Nancy Navarro (D-District 4) said she wanted the process changed for future union negotiations, with county officials settling on a “general target” for raises before contracts arrive at the council.
Council Vice President Sidney Katz (D-District 3) agreed that there needed to be a “better system.”
“We should not go through this each and every year,” he said. “We need to have the council’s involvement much earlier.”
Also on Monday, the council took a unanimous straw vote in favor of a $2.6 billion budget for Montgomery County Public Schools that includes $30 million more for schools than Elrich originally proposed.
Following an outcry from advocates and school officials, Elrich, the county council and school leaders last month announced an agreement to fully fund the school district’s request.
On April 30, Elrich sent the council an amended proposal that adds $5.1 million freed up by state legislation that shifts some of the costs of the 911 system to the state and $1 million from money the county plans to spend on an early child care and education initiative.
The bulk of the additional funding — $24.4 million — would come to the county based on recommendations from the wide-ranging Kirwan Commission.
That money will only be released this year if legislation related to Kirwan is signed into law by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
A spokeswoman for Hogan said the governor “continues to give this legislation thoughtful consideration.”