The Montgomery County Council has repeatedly focused on racial and gender equity. Supported by the entire Council, Councilmember Nancy Navarro sponsored legislation that requires a racial equity analysis of each piece of legislation. Councilmember Evan Glass sponsored successful legislation this year that bans consideration of salary history in an effort to promote pay equity between male and female county employees.
While these primarily symbolic acts passed easily, the Council flinched from much more meaningful action when it passed the budget this year.
County unions negotiated some stonking good raises with County Executive Marc Elrich this year. Analyses by Adam Pagnucco understandably focused on the politics of the raises for unions that supported Elrich. It’s certainly true that the unions supported Elrich, but the nature of the way that Montgomery negotiates union contracts propelled these raises forward and also merits attention.
Montgomery negotiated first with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and reached agreement without mediation or arbitration. The Firefighters union (IAFF) went next. These negotiations ended up in arbitration, as required by the contract when the two sides cannot agree. The arbitrator mandated generous raises for IAFF employees, which the county executive was contractually obliged to support during the budget process.
The unions aren’t supposed to talk to each other about these negotiations, but what do you think the chances are that doesn’t happen? As a result, there was no way MCGEO, the county employee union, was going to settle for any less. One imagines that the county executive was ill-positioned to talk them down, knowing the results from the previous arbitration (and knowing that MCGEO also knew even though they theoretically did not).
The County Council understandably viewed these raises as budget busters. The increases are well above growth in our relatively stagnant tax revenues. Few county residents have received extra pay increases to make up for anemic wage growth during the economic crisis. I know I didn’t.
The Council chose to sharply reduce the pay increase projected for MCGEO, the county employee unions, which on top of a COLA and step increase had included an additional 3.5% for a step increase that got deferred during the economic crisis. The police union (FOP) received the same deferred step increase, but the council left it untouched.
While MCGEO members have received no deferred step increases, the other county unions have been much more fortunate. Not just FOP and IAFF employees but also MCEA employees (the teachers’ union) have now received two apiece due the actions of this and past councils.
Unlike the membership of the IAFF or FOP, MCGEO is the only union of the three that is both majority female and majority minority. In cutting salaries for MCGEO, the County Council directly eliminated spending that would have done far more to promote racial and gender equity than the more symbolic legislation sponsored by Navarro and Glass.
From budgetary and policy perspectives, the Council choices made sense. The MCGEO raise had the biggest impact on the budget because they represent far more people than FOP and IAFF. Moreover, police and fire protection are core services. My guess is that most county residents would rather see firefighters and police officers receive pay increases than, say, county liquor store employees represented by MCGEO.
It was the right decision. Indeed, one could easily argue that the Council should have cut more from all of the union pay raises because tax revenues have regularly disappointed with the county seemingly facing budgets shortfalls with the predictability of humidity in August.
MCGEO remains an easier target than the sacred cows of education (MCEA) and first responders (FOP and IAFF). However, along with Department of Liquor Control (DLC) employees, MCGEO also represent people like prison guards, sheriffs, social workers, librarians, and snow plow drivers. Many engage in dangerous and difficult work.
Perhaps county councilmembers should spend less time touting how woke they are in the future. When it came to spending hard cash, the Council blinked and reduced the negotiated salaries of the predominantly female and minority union even as it once again protected pay increases for the other two unions. Reality bites.