The Montgomery County Council rejected a proposed $100 million package of pay hikes averaging about 8 percent for teachers and other unionized employees Tuesday, telling County Executive Isiah Leggett and the Board of Education that the increases need to be pared back.
The raises were negotiated by the county and school system as part of collective bargaining agreements. But council members, who are also considering a 6.4 percent property tax increase to fund the 2017 budget that goes into effect July 1, said the hikes are out of scale in an economy where inflation is low and Social Security beneficiaries won’t see an annual cost-of-living adjustment.
“We’re working together to rebalance our spending in a way that’s responsible to all, including students, taxpayers and employees,” said Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At Large).
Leggett and the Board of Education have until May 10 to renegotiate wage provisions with unions and send a revised package back to the council. Leggett and the board could also opt to leave the increases unchanged.
The council has the authority to set pay. It is scheduled to take final action on the budget May 26.
Leggett, who negotiated the contracts with police fire and non-uniform county employees, said the chances of shrinking the package were remote and amounted to “a kabuki dance” of pointless posturing.
“There’s no way I can envision that we can successfully negotiate what the council wants,” Leggett said.
He added that during the recession years, when the county was strapped for revenue, economic stability was achieved “on the backs of labor.” That came with a promise, he said, that workers would be made whole when times improved.
“We said that as we emerged from that we would try to make up for some of that,” Leggett said
About three-quarters of the $100 million is earmarked for the 156,000-student school system. In 2014, the county Board of Education signed an agreement with unionized teachers, principals and support staff that calls for a 2 percent general wage hike and a 3 percent “step” or longevity increase in September, followed by another step increase in March averaging an additional 3 percent for some school employees.
The council is considering a $2.4 billion schools appropriation for 2017, about $90 million above the state-mandated minimum spending requirements, or maintenance of effort. Members said they want to see less taxpayer money going to salaries and more channeled into initiatives that reduce class size and target the achievement gap.
School Board President Michael Durso and Chris Lloyd, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, said discussions were underway and expressed optimism.
“The council has made it very clear they are concerned about class size and the achievement gap, and so it’s incumbent on us to find a way where that can happen,” Durso said.
Lloyd, whose union presents about 12,000 classroom teachers and other educators and support staff, said both sides are “trying to find a path forward.”
“The challenge is to put together a package that makes sense to meet priorities and honor the people who are working to meet those priorities,” Lloyd said.
Under contracts negotiated by Leggett, police and non-uniform employees would receive 1 percent general wage increases and a pair of 3.5 percent step increases — one for this year and the other to make up for step increases deferred during the recession. Firefighters would get a 2 percent wage adjustment and a single 3.5 percent step increase.
The council said Tuesday that it wanted to eliminate the deferred step increase for police and nonuniform workers and reduce the firefighter wage increase to 1 percent, bringing all three unions to a 4.5 percent hike.
Gino Renne, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 MCGEO (Municipal and County Government Employees Organization) which represents about 8,000 non-uniform county workers, said the money at issue was “nickels and dimes” in the context of a $5.2 billion annual operating budget.
“This is really about money that was loaned to them by the workforce,” Renne said. “They want to renege on promises that were made.”