|Wednesday, February 23, 2011 – Steve Fermier and WBAL TV|
|The Anne Arundel County Council planned to vote on a bill Tuesday night that public safety unions call the opening shot in an attack on collective bargaining.
However, the council ended its session by passing an amendment to gather more information and meet again in two weeks to discuss the matter.
“It doesn’t matter whether we’re a teacher or we’re a public sector labor organization. Open any paper or turn on any TV channel, and you’ll see that we are the target,” said Craig Oldershaw, the president of the Anne Arundel County Firefighters Union.
Oldershaw is fighting back against a plan that would affect his fellow firefighters while, at the same time, venting the frustration of many public employees who feel they’ve become public enemy No. 1.
“We are Wall Street’s solution to the problem in this country. They’ve just aimed their gun in a different direction. So, they’re taking a shot at public sector unions,” Oldershaw said.
The Anne Arundel County Council may decide Tuesday night to limit binding arbitration for the public safety unions so the council no longer has to abide by an arbiter’s ruling in a labor dispute.
“We’ve got to start treating government like they do in the private sector,” said County Executive John Leopold, a Republican, who requested that the bill be proposed.
He said he wants more flexibility to close a $75 million budget deficit.
The unions said his bill has nothing to do with the budget and everything to do with them.
“I believe this is the first of many bills that will come down from this county executive to go after collective bargaining and public sector unions,” Oldershaw said.
Leopold said that’s not what the bill is about.
“I’m not interested in busting unions, as some may do in other parts of the country. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I want to bargain in good faith,” he said.
The fight is testy, WBAL’s Jayne Miller reported. The unions took out a full-page ad in Sunday’s The Capital newspaper in Annapolis, and Leopold cried foul.
“To say I want to end arbitration — that’s a falsehood, and they’re trying to deceive the people,” Leopold said.
“Without binding arbitration, we don’t have a leg to stand on,” said O’Brien Atkinson of the Anne Arundel County Fraternal Order of Police.
Atkinson said he believes the unfortunate side about the effort is that “we could not strike and we would not strike.”
“And if you cut our pay by 5 percent, we would still come out and do the job for the citizens of this county,” Atkinson said.
Leopold also said he’s looking to change pension and health benefits for the unions.
No specific proposals have been made.