Category Archives: Fire Fighters

How Will We Pay for This?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Confronting one of the worst recessions in its history, the MoCo government is projecting a loss of $190 million in revenue this fiscal year and over $1 billion over the next six fiscal years. With such dire financial projections, one would think that the county would be looking for ways to save money above and beyond the low-hanging fruit it has already plucked. Instead, the county has created a new spending stream with no obvious way to pay for it.

What is this new spending stream? On April 10, County Executive Marc Elrich announced that he had reached an agreement with the three county employee unions (MCGEO, the fire fighters and the police) to provide their members with COVID-19 differential pay. The extra pay applied to two categories of employees.

Front Facing Onsite: work that cannot be performed by telework, involves physical interaction with the public and cannot be performed with appropriate social distancing. These employees would get an extra $10 per hour.

Back Office Onsite: work that cannot be performed by telework and does not involve regular physical interaction with the public. These employees would get an extra $3 per hour.

The extra pay was retroactive to the March 29 pay period and was supposed to be in effect for six pay periods “or until the Maryland State of Emergency is lifted.” At the time, county council staff estimated that the extra pay would cost the county $3.2 million per pay period. As of this writing, I am told that the COVID pay continues. (Note: this pay arrangement does not apply to MCPS or other agencies legally separate from county government.)

My sources tell me that the county’s COVID pay program is one of the most generous in the United States. It is far more generous than the state’s COVID pay, which was an extra $3.13 per hour for some classifications of public safety, juvenile center and healthcare employees plus $2.00 more for those working in quarantine areas. (The $3.13 per hour ended on September 8 while the quarantine pay continues.) The generosity of the county’s program can further be seen by its cost: $3.2 million per pay period versus the state’s $3.3 million. MoCo has roughly 10,000 employees while the state has more than 80,000.

Elrich painted this extra pay as a financial win for the county. His press release stated, “The County Executive noted that under provisions of existing county bargaining agreements (which were negotiated years ago), the unions could have insisted on much larger benefits, but they understood the importance of the ongoing fiscal health of the county.” So according to Elrich, by giving the unions something less than what their agreements gave them, he was saving the county money.

In retrospect, that was a dubious claim. The unions are indeed entitled to double pay during emergencies under their agreements. However, a careful examination of the county’s collective bargaining agreements with MCGEO, the fire fighters and the police shows that their emergency pay provisions relate to weather emergencies. The emergency pay provision in the police agreement is actually labeled “Snow Emergency-General Emergency Pay.” All three agreements contain this language:

“General emergency” for the purpose of this agreement is defined as any period determined by the County Executive, Chief Administrative Officer, or designee to be a period of emergency, such as inclement weather conditions. Under such conditions, County offices are closed and services are discontinued; only emergency services shall be provided.

The county suspended some (but not all) services early during the COVID crisis but many of them are being provided now. The county even said as far back as March 13, “While schools and public facilities will be closed, Montgomery County offices remain open for business and operations are continuing.” This status does not qualify as a general emergency under the contract language.

MCGEO’s agreement contains this additional language:

Implementation of General Emergencies shall be in accordance with Administrative Procedure 4-21, dated July 12, 1991. In addition to the above, before making a determination whether to declare a General Emergency, the CAO or designee will consider recent weather reports regarding the amount of precipitation already accumulated, as well as the forecast for further accumulations during the succeeding 8-hour period. Other considerations that the CAO or designee will take into account include whether the major roadways of the County are passable and safe for travel and whether the County public schools have been closed for the day and what actions other public sector jurisdictions in the Washington Metropolitan Region take. The decision whether to declare a General Emergency shall be based on the cumulative of all these factors and no one factor shall be conclusive or determinative. The County Executive or CAO should attempt to give employees the earliest notice of whether a general emergency or liberal leave period will be declared.

Again, this clearly relates to a weather emergency.

Either Elrich knew all this and granted concessions anyway or he didn’t bother to read the union contracts and was out-negotiated by MCGEO’s shrewd president, Gino Renne. If the latter, he is not the first executive to be cleaned out at the bargaining table by Gino! The unions were quite upset to see the council cancel $28 million of compensation increases last spring, but they have already earned more than that in COVID pay.

It’s important to note that the county council had no role in this. Normally, the council would approve economic elements of a new collective bargaining agreement inside county government. But in this instance, a renegotiation occurred of an existing agreement. Elrich did not ask for council approval and the council did not bless it.

The issue here isn’t whether employees should get COVID pay. Of course they should. If you were a police officer, a fire fighter, a correctional officer, a Ride On bus driver or another employee interacting with the public for hours on end, you would want it too! The issue is whether the county has a way to pay for it, especially given its troubled financial condition. And that’s where the matter gets complicated.

One place where the county can turn for COVID expenses is federal grant funds, especially those disbursed under the CARES Act. To date, the county has received $223 million in federal grant funds during the COVID crisis. The status of those funds is a bit murky, but my quick and dirty math from examining the county council’s spending resolutions is that close to all of that money has already been appropriated. Last summer, the county was hoping a deal in Congress would produce more federal funds but it didn’t happen. Now there is talk of covering at least part of the COVID pay through a FEMA reimbursement but who knows if that will occur. Looming over all of this is the question of how long the payments will continue.

If federal funds are not available, the county’s options for financing its COVID pay program are difficult ones. It could make offsetting spending cuts although most county spending is tied to labor in one way or another. (How crazy would it be to pay employees more and then furlough them?) It could dip into reserves, which might impact its AAA bond rating. It could raid retiree health care funds yet again (something that was hinted at in July), which has already earned it a rebuke from Wall Street. Or it could raise taxes.

Readers, what would you do?

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Revealed! Funders of Nine Districts

By Adam Pagnucco.

Nine District for MoCo, the ballot question entity responsible for gathering signatures for a 9 district charter amendment, has filed a new campaign finance report listing its contributions and expenditures through August 2. The organization’s prior report, released in January, contained data for 7/24/19 through 1/8/20.

The information here is bound to shake MoCo’s political establishment to its core.

First, the overall data on contributions and expenditures.

Contributions
7/24/19-1/8/20: $1,244
1/9/20-8/2/20: $64,790
Total: $66,034

Expenditures
7/24/19-1/8/20: $438
1/9/20-8/2/20: $59,140
Total: $59,578

Here are the largest contributors to the group.

Charles Nulsen, Washington Property Company: $50,000
UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO: $10,000 (in-kind)
Bob Buchanan, Buchanan Partners: $5,000
Fraternal Order of Police: $5,000 (in-kind)
Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association PAC: $5,000 (in-kind)
Gingery Development Group: $5,000
Arlene Hillerson (listed as being in real estate): $2,000

The Town of Laytonsville also contributed $100.

Charlie Nulsen is the founder of Empower Montgomery. Bob Buchanan is the former chair of the county’s economic development corporation. Both are long-time regional developers.

The unions’ in-kind contributions came in the form of online advertising.

The leading recipient of money from the group is Rowland Strategies of Baltimore, which was paid $50,000 on June 9. The firm is headed by Jonathon Rowland, a national level strategist who ran Hoan Dang’s campaign for county council in 2018.

Nine Districts for MoCo is now revealed as an unholy alliance of developers and unions – two groups that often don’t see eye to eye. The unions are aggrieved at the council’s rejection of their collective bargaining agreements (among MANY other things). The developers have long complained about – in their view – the difficulty of doing business in MoCo. They are also no doubt upset about the recent imposition of temporary rent stabilization.

The real estate industry and labor both have substantial influence over county politics but don’t get everything they want – especially in these troubled times. If they have indeed formed an unholy alliance on anything, much less a ballot measure that would eviscerate the county council, this is a new day for MoCo.

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Elrich Agrees to Give Unions COVID-19 Differential Pay

By Adam Pagnucco.

County Executive Marc Elrich has reached agreement with the three county employee unions (MCGEO, the fire fighters and the police) to provide additional pay related to the COVID-19 crisis to their members. The additional pay will range up to $10 per hour, is retroactive to March 29 and will last for at least six pay periods. Elrich’s press release appears below.

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County and Labor Representatives Reach Agreement on Recognizing the Risks of On-site Employees

For Immediate Release: Friday, April 10, 2020

County Executive Marc Elrich is pleased to announce that the County has completed its negotiations with all three County unions and agreed upon COVID-19 differential pay to recognize the unusual risks employees now face in leaving their homes and delivering vital services to the public. These agreements are significant because the union representatives worked with management during this crisis time to achieve an agreement that ensures that critical services are maintained, employees are taken care of and fiscal realities are addressed. The three unions are the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1664; the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 35; and, the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1994 (MCGEO).

“I appreciate the work and the willingness of our union representatives to join with us in a collaborative approach to bargaining, to achieve an agreement that respects the increased risk for our workers who are continuing to do their jobs and respects our budgetary obligations,” County Executive Elrich said.

This agreement recognizes the increased risk of the work done by our first responders – firefighters and police officers during this pandemic. It also recognizes that other employees are doing work that requires public interaction – and therefore increased risk, including work by corrections officers, bus drivers, nurses, and social workers.

The County Executive noted that under provisions of existing county bargaining agreements (which were negotiated years ago), the unions could have insisted on much larger benefits, but they understood the importance of the ongoing fiscal health of the county. The County Executive also noted the progressive nature of the agreement, which gave dollar, rather than percentage, differential payments.

The County Executive acknowledged that the County has nonprofit partners serving on the front lines of the Corona-19 response and will work with them to find possible ways to help them maintain necessary staffing.

After teams of management, in close coordination with union representatives, identified the critical core services that would need to continue for the next eight weeks, the likely minimum duration of the COVID-19 crisis. This COVID-19 differential pay would apply to those front-facing and back-office onsite employees who are required to come to work to respond to COVID-19 or provide County’s selected critical core services. Those who must work onsite are in the following two categories:

Front Facing Onsite: work that cannot be performed by telework, involves physical interaction with the public and cannot be performed with appropriate social distancing.

Back Office Onsite: work that cannot be performed by telework and does not involve regular physical interaction with the public.
The broad details of the COVID-19 pay differential are as follows:

The differential pay will be uniform for FOP and IAFF members. For MCGEO-represented and GSS employees, the differential will distinguish between front-facing onsite and back office onsite work. The differential pay for all impacted employees are retroactive to March 29, the beginning of the current pay period.

The front-facing onsite employees will receive an additional $10/hr and the back-office onsite will receive $3/hr.

Additionally, this week masks will be distributed to employees who do not have them, and administrative leave will be given to high risk employees who cannot telework and do not feel safe working on site.

The agreements cover six pay periods, which started on March 29, or until the Maryland State of Emergency is lifted. If the State of Emergency is still in effect at the end of the six pay periods, the agreements will be revisited.

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Acevero Claims an Endorsement He Doesn’t Have

By Adam Pagnucco.

District 39 House candidate Gabe Acevero sent out a mailer claiming an endorsement from a prominent MoCo organization yesterday.  The problem is that the group never endorsed him.

Below is the mailer sent by Acevero.  Note the logo in the top row, second from right.  It belongs to International Fire Fighters Local 1664, which represents career fire fighters employed by the Montgomery County Government.

Acevero also claims the fire fighters’ support on his website.  Their logo appears in the second row, second from right.

In fact, the fire fighters’ endorsements in District 39 include Senator Nancy King, Delegates Kirill Reznik and Shane Robinson and new House candidate Lesley Lopez, who is running with the incumbents.  The union notified us of these endorsements via email on June 13.  Their list of General Assembly endorsements appears on their website.

IAFF Local 1664 President Jeffrey Buddle sent us the following official statement upon learning about Acevero’s claim.  The union repeated the statement on Facebook.

The Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association -IAFF Local 1664 conducted a vetting process of candidates for the Maryland General Assembly.

In District 39 we endorsed the following candidates:

Nancy King – Senate

Lesley Lopez – Delegate

Kirill Reznik – Delegate

Shane Robinson – Delegate

Gabe Acevero did not receive our endorsement and does not have permission to use our IAFF organization logo on any campaign materials.

We asked Acevero for an explanation of this yesterday.  As of this writing, he has not responded.  If he does respond, we will update this post.

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