Tag Archives: MCGEO

Two Negotiating Strategies, Two Outcomes

By Adam Pagnucco.

In justifying the county’s creation of a $4 million per pay period emergency pay liability, representatives of county government depict it as a good deal for taxpayers. They say that the county’s collective bargaining agreements set much higher levels of emergency pay than the amount the county is now paying, so $4 million a pay period is actually a bargain. Setting aside whether the county’s existing emergency pay provisions actually apply to a pandemic – there is some doubt about that – the county’s claim is called into question by the emergency compensation program of one of its sister agencies, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, commonly referred to as Park and Planning.

MCGEO is the largest county employee union of both Montgomery County Government and Park and Planning. It is led by the fearsome Gino Renne, who has a long and famous history of playing hardball with politicians. The union’s prior collective bargaining agreements with both the county and Park and Planning had preexisting emergency pay provisions which the county cited in providing COVID pay. Unlike MCGEO’s preexisting agreement with the county, its preexisting agreement with Park and Planning has an emergency pay provision explicitly referring to “epidemics.” Despite that fact, negotiations between MCGEO and the two agencies yielded outcomes that were worlds apart.

MCGEO’s agreement with the county

Signed on April 3, the agreement gives employees in “front facing onsite work” an extra $10 per hour and employees in “back office onsite work” an extra $3 per hour. Teleworking employees do not receive extra pay. The differential counts for the purpose of calculating overtime pay.

The agreement is indefinite. Here is its language on duration:

This Agreement may re-open on June 20, 2020. However, if the declared Maryland State of Emergency related to COVID-19 extends beyond that time, the terms of this Agreement shall continue, or after collectively bargaining with MCGEO, will be modified based upon the circumstances at the time. In the event that the declared Maryland State of Emergency related to COVID-19 is rescinded before June 20, 2020, the date of the Declaration’s rescission shall be considered the last day of this Agreement, notwithstanding the pay periods indicated above defining when the COVID-19 Differential will be paid.

The county could renegotiate the agreement if MCGEO agrees to do it. Otherwise, the agreement lasts as long as the state’s declared emergency does. As of this writing, the emergency continues and so does the agreement. County council staff has previously noted that it provides by far the most generous COVID pay of any jurisdiction in the region.

MCGEO’s agreements with Park and Planning

MCGEO has had two memorandums of understanding and six agreements on the COVID emergency with Park and Planning through late January. Their effective dates are:

MOU signed 3/15/20
Agreement 1: 5/4/20 – 6/30/20
MOU signed 7/2/20
Agreement 2: 7/10/20 – 8/8/30
Agreement 3: 8/5/20 – 8/29/20
Agreement 4: 9/8/20 – 10/3/20
Agreement 5: 10/5/20 – 11/28/20
Agreement 6: 11/25/20 – 1/30/21

Of the agreements, only the first (lasting through June 30) contained extra pay. That agreement gave an extra $2.75 per hour for “onsite work” and an extra $4.50 per hour for child care aides performing “front facing onsite work.” Unlike the county’s agreement, emergency pay was not included in the calculation of overtime pay. The later agreements provided varying levels of leave and paid time off and have other language on health and safety, teleworking and scheduling but they do not provide emergency pay. Let’s note that time away from work does more to protect employee health than requiring them to report on-site with a pay differential.

No one will ever accuse MCGEO President Gino Renne of being an ineffective negotiator. He has delivered outstanding value to his members for many years. The difference here is in the negotiating strategies taken by the two agencies. Park and Planning utilized a series of short, time-limited agreements to adjust its compensation to changing circumstances. The county signed one open-ended agreement that locked in extra pay negotiated during the height of COVID’s first wave. Gino signed the agreements with both agencies despite their vast differences.

That’s not all. The county’s agreements with the police and fire fighters both provide indefinite emergency pay of $10 per hour for onsite work, with the extra pay counting for calculations of overtime. Of Park and Planning’s five agreements with its police union through late November, only one – lasting through June 30 – provided emergency pay and that was for $4.50 an hour. Once again, Park and Planning got a different result with a different negotiating strategy.

The results of these differing agreements are two-fold. First, there is a huge gap in the costs faced by the agencies. The county has about 9 times the employees of Park and Planning. The county has paid $4 million per pay period since April, which translates to $78 million as of last week. Park and Planning paid a total of $400,917.

Second, there is a tremendous inequity between county employees (many of whom are receiving an extra $3 or $10 per hour) and Park and Planning employees (who are getting paid time off and leave but not extra pay since June 30). That inequity extends to employees of MCPS and Montgomery College, who are not getting anything resembling the county’s pay. Expect these employees to ask – with justification – why they aren’t getting the same extra money as county workers.

The question of how to pay for the county’s huge new liability – one that was avoided by Park and Planning – will be a big factor in writing the next operating budget. We shall find out the consequences of all this when it arrives on March 15.

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Winners and Losers of the Ballot Question War

By Adam Pagnucco.

This year, MoCo saw its biggest battle over ballot questions in sixteen years. Most county players lined up on one side or the other and victory has been declared. Who won and who lost?

Winners

Council Member Andrew “Real Deal” Friedson
Friedson authored Question A, which liberalized the county’s property tax system to allow receipts to increase with assessments. Wall Street applauded its passage. Even progressives, who don’t love Friedson but owe him big-time for opening up the county’s revenue stream, have to admit that his Question A was the real deal.

Council Member Evan Glass
Glass authored Question C, which added two district council seats and defeated the nine district Question D. Lots of wannabe politicians are going to look at running for the new seats. Every single one of them should kiss Glass’s ring and write a max-out check to his campaign account.

County Democratic Party
It’s not a coincidence that MoCo voters adopted the positions of the county Democratic Party on all four ballot questions. With partisan sentiments running high and information on the questions running low, MoCo Democrats went along with their party and dominated the election.

David Blair
Blair was the number one contributor to the four ballot issue committees that passed Questions A and C and defeated Questions B and D. By himself, Blair accounted for nearly half the money they raised. Whatever Blair decides to do heading into the next election, he can claim to have done as much to pass the county Democrats’ positions on the ballot questions as anyone. (Disclosure: I have done work for Blair’s non-profit but I was not involved in his ballot question activities.)

Ike Leggett
The former county executive was key in leading the fight against Robin Ficker’s anti-tax Question B and the nine county council district Question D. Thousands of MoCo voters still like, respect and trust Ike Leggett.

Jews United for Justice
While not having the money and manpower of many other groups who played on the questions, Jews United for Justice played a key role in convening the coalition that ultimately won. They have gained a lot of respect from many influencers in MoCo politics.

Facebook
Lord knows how much money they made from all the ballot question ads!

Losers

Robin Ficker
At the beginning of 2020, MoCo had one of the most restrictive property tax charter limits of any county in Maryland. For many years, Ficker was looking to make it even tighter and petitioned Question B to the ballot to convert it into a near-lock on revenues. But his charter amendment provoked Friedson to write Question A, which ultimately passed while Question B failed and will raise much more money than the current system over time. Instead of tightening the current system, the result is a more liberal system that will achieve the opposite of what Ficker wanted – more revenue for the county. This was one of the biggest backfires in all of MoCo political history.

Republicans
The county’s Republican Party did everything they could to pass Ficker’s anti-tax Question B and the nine county council district Question D. In particular, they gave both cash and in-kind contributions to Nine Districts and even raised money for the group on their website. In doing so, the GOP provoked a fierce partisan backlash as the county Democrats rose up to take the opposite positions on the ballot questions and most Democratic-leaning groups combined forces to support them. With President Donald Trump apparently defeated, Governor Larry Hogan leaving office in two years and little prospect of success in MoCo awaiting them, where does the county’s Republican Party go from here?

This tweet by MoCo for Question C from a voting location explains all you need to know about why Question D failed.

Political Outsiders
It wasn’t just Republicans who supported the failed Questions B and D; a range of political outsiders supported them too. What they witnessed was a mammoth effort by the Democratic Party, Democratic elected officials and (mostly) progressive interest groups to thwart them. Even the county chamber of commerce and the realtors lined up against them. Whether or not it’s true, this is bound to provoke more talk of a “MoCo Machine.” Machine or not, outsiders have to be wondering how to win when establishment forces combine against them.

Push

MCGEO, Fire Fighters and Police Unions
These three unions are frustrated. They have not been treated the way they expected by the administration of County Executive Marc Elrich and they are also upset with the county council for abrogating their contracts (among other things). They wanted to show that they could impose consequences for messing with them and that was one reason why all three made thousands of dollars of in-kind contributions to Nine Districts. On the negative side, the nine districts Question D failed. On the positive side, the passage of Friedson’s Question A will result in a flow of more dollars into the county budget over time, a win for their members. So it’s a push. On to the next election.

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MoCo Ballot Issue Committee Campaign Finances, October 18

By Adam Pagnucco.

The six committees formed to advocate for and against MoCo’s ballot questions have filed their final campaign finance reports before the general election, covering the period through October 18. Let’s see where the money is coming from.

First, a quick summary of the ballot questions.

Question A: Would freeze the property tax rate but allow a unanimous vote of the council to increase it. Authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson.
See Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment.

Question B: Would remove the ability of the county council to break the current charter limit on property taxes, thereby capping property tax revenue growth at the rate of inflation. Authored by Robin Ficker.

Question C: Would add 2 district seats to the county council, thereby establishing 7 district seats and 4 at-large seats. Authored by Council Member Evan Glass.
See MoCo Could Use More County Council Districts.

Question D: Would convert the current council’s 5 district seats and 4 at-large seats to 9 district seats. Authored by Nine District for MoCo.
See Don’t Abolish the At-Large County Council Seats, Nine Kings and Queens.

Here is a summary of finances for the committees for the entire cycle through October 18.

To understand why these flows of money are occurring, it’s useful to recall the genesis of these questions. This year’s ballot question fight was joined when two questions were placed on the ballot by petition: Robin Ficker’s anti-tax Question B and Nine Districts for MoCo’s Question D, which would eliminate council at-large seats and remake the council into 9 district seats. In response to those ballot questions, the county council put two of its own questions on the ballot to compete with them: Question A (a different tax limitation measure) and Question C (which would keep the at-large seats and add two district seats). It is believed by some that if two directly conflicting ballot questions pass, they will both get thrown out, though that is not 100% certain.

Once it became clear that both Ficker’s anti-tax question and the nine districts question were going to appear on the ballot, no fewer than four new ballot issue committees were created to stop one or both of them and/or to promote the council’s alternatives. In short order, many of the county’s power players took sides in an uncommon off-year ballot question war. The players’ positions are at least as interesting as the committees’ activities themselves.

Nine Districts for MoCo, the oldest of the committees, has by far the most individual contributors but 82% of its cash funding has come from the real estate industry. In its most recent report, MoCo GOP Central Committee Member Ann Hingston made 6 more in-kind contributions totaling $993, thereby providing more evidence of the links between Nine Districts and the county Republican Party. Nine Districts’ fundraising pace has slowed as they have collected just $154 since October 4.

The competing committees have rapidly closed the gap. Three groups have paid for mail: former County Executive Ike Leggett’s group opposing Questions B and D, former executive candidate David Blair’s group supporting Question A and opposing Question B and Residents for More Representation, a group supporting Question C and opposing Question D. These groups are also paying for websites and online advertising. But they got off to a late start while Nine Districts has been campaigning for more than a year.

Below are all the major players who have contributed at least $10,000 to one or a combination of these ballot issue committees.

David Blair – $165,000
Supports Questions A and C, opposes Questions B and D
Businessman and former executive candidate David Blair is the number one spender on ballot questions. He has contributed $65,000 to Legget’s group opposing Questions B and D, $50,000 to his own group supporting Question A and opposing Question B, and $50,000 to Residents for More Representation, which supports Question C and opposes Question D. Blair’s positions mirror the positions taken by the county Democratic Party. (Disclosure: I have done work for Blair’s non-profit but I am not involved in his ballot question activities.)

Charlie Nulsen – $123,500
Supports Questions A, C and D, opposes Question B
Nulsen is the president of Washington Property Company. On June 4, he contributed $50,000 to Nine Districts to help get Question D on the ballot. On October 13, he contributed $23,500 to Residents for More Representation to defeat Question D. Nulsen could have saved more than $70,000 and achieved the same outcome by simply doing nothing. He also contributed $50,000 to Blair’s group supporting Question A and opposing Question B.

Monte Gingery – $40,000
Supports Question D
The head of Gingery Development Group has made three contributions totaling $40,000 to Nine Districts.

Willco – $40,000
Supports Questions C and D
On August 5, this Potomac developer gave an in-kind contribution of $15,000 to Nine Districts which was used to pay Rowland Strategies (their campaign firm). On October 9, Willco gave $25,000 to Residents for More Representation, which is seeking to pass Question C and defeat Nine Districts. Folks, you can’t make it up.

MCGEO – $30,000
Supports Question A, Opposes Question B, Gave Contribution to Question D
The Municipal and County Government Employees Organization (MCGEO) has made a $20,000 contribution to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B and a $10,000 in-kind contribution to Nine Districts. MCGEO President Gino Renne is the treasurer of Empower PAC, which gave another $5,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

MCEA – $20,000
Opposes Question B
The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has contributed $20,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

UFCW Local 400 – $10,000
Opposes Question B
This grocery store union which shares a parent union with MCGEO gave $10,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

The Montgomery County Democratic Party recommends voting for Questions A and C and voting against Questions B and D. The Montgomery County Republican Party recommends the exact opposite. The Washington Post editorial board opposes all four ballot questions.

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Who is Spending Money on the Ballot Questions?

By Adam Pagnucco.

The six committees formed to advocate for and against MoCo’s ballot questions have filed campaign finance reports through October 4. Let’s see who is paying for all of this – so far.

First, a quick summary of the ballot questions.

Question A: Would freeze the property tax rate but allow a unanimous vote of the council to increase it. Authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson.
See Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment.

Question B: Would remove the ability of the county council to break the current charter limit on property taxes, thereby capping property tax revenue growth at the rate of inflation. Authored by Robin Ficker.

Question C: Would add 2 district seats to the county council, thereby establishing 7 district seats and 4 at-large seats. Authored by Council Member Evan Glass.
See MoCo Could Use More County Council Districts.

Question D: Would convert the current council’s 5 district seats and 4 at-large seats to 9 district seats. Authored by Nine District for MoCo.
See Don’t Abolish the At-Large County Council Seats, Nine Kings and Queens.

Here is a summary of committee finances for the entire cycle.

Nine District for MoCo, by far the oldest committee, has raised and spent the most money. It has had far more individual contributions (252) than Ike Leggett’s Vote No on B and D (30) with no other committee reporting any. Real estate interests have accounted for 83% of Nine District’s cash contributions. Interestingly, while Washington Property Company president Charlie Nulsen and the three county employee unions were major Nine District contributors in prior reports, they have not contributed any more since July. Nine District has collected contributions from leaders of the county’s Republican Party, which has raised money for the group on its website. The group has spent money on fees for Baltimore consultant Rowland Strategies, legal fees, robocalls and advertising (especially on Facebook).

Vote No on B & D, Leggett’s committee, spent $9,610 on graphic design for printing and campaign materials and $58,437 on direct mailing. So far, this is the only expenditure by any committee on mail. (Where’s my mailer, Ike?) Two other committees have collected money but not spent it and two more have collected less than $1,000.

Here are the biggest contributors to these committees and their positions on the ballot questions.

David Blair – $100,000
Supports Question A, Opposes Questions B and D
The former county executive candidate has given $50,000 each to Leggett’s group opposing Questions B and D and his own group supporting Question A and opposing Question B.

Charlie Nulsen – $50,000
Supports Question D
The president of Washington Property Company made one $50,000 contribution to Nine District for MoCo on 6/4/20. This was a critical boost for the group as it was in the home stretch of gathering signatures to appear on the ballot.

Monte Gingery – $40,000
Supports Question D
The head of Gingery Development Group has made three contributions totaling $40,000 to Nine District for MoCo.

MCGEO – $30,000
Opposes Question B, Supports Question D
The largest county government employee union gave $20,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B and made a $10,000 in-kind contribution to Nine District for MoCo. MCGEO President Gino Renne is the treasurer of Empower PAC, which gave another $5,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

Willco – $15,000
Supports Question D
The Potomac developer gave an in-kind contribution of $15,000 to Nine District for MoCo which was used to pay Rowland Strategies.

UFCW Local 400 – $10,000
Opposes Question B
This grocery store union which shares a parent union with MCGEO gave $10,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

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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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Acevero Claims MCGEO Fired Him Over Police Reform Legislation

By Adam Pagnucco.

Delegate Gabriel Acevero (D-39) has told the New York Times that he was fired from his position at MCGEO, the union that represents most non-MCPS county employees, because of his legislative work on reforming police departments. According to the Times:

When Gabriel Acevero, a Maryland state legislator employed by a union local, introduced a bill last year to roll back protections for police accused of misconduct, he was stepping on a potential fault line. His union, Local 1994 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, represents thousands of Black and Latino workers in food services and at a variety of government agencies. It also includes a small portion of workers in law enforcement.

That fault line turned out to be a chasm that could swallow him up. In mid-June, Mr. Acevero filed a formal charge with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the union of illegally firing him because of his reform advocacy.

“The reason why I was terminated,” Mr. Acevero said, “was about legislation.”

MCGEO President Gino Renne was also interviewed by the Times. Read the entire article here.

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MCGEO Protests at Riemer’s House

By Adam Pagnucco.

Angry at the county council’s rejection of its revised collective bargaining agreement, MCGEO – the largest county employee union outside MCPS – protested at Council Member Hans Riemer’s house today.

Every council member except Tom Hucker and Will Jawando voted to reject the agreements, so why did the union target Riemer alone? MCGEO’s spokeswoman told WJLA-7, “Hans was the most vehement against the contract. He really led the charge.” MCGEO is also upset at Riemer for voting to reject both its original contract (which provided a peak raise of 9.4%) and its revised contract last year. Council Member Andrew Friedson was the only other council member to vote against both of those agreements along with Riemer.

MCGEO doesn’t like Hans Riemer.

This isn’t just about the contracts. Riemer’s repeated strong criticisms of County Executive Marc Elrich have led many to believe that Riemer is considering a challenge to Elrich in the next election. Riemer is in his third term on the council and term limits prevent him from running again for his current seat. None of this is lost on MCGEO, which claimed credit for Elrich’s election. By targeting Riemer, MCGEO accomplishes two objectives – defending its contract and punishing a potential rival to Elrich. Given MCGEO’s long history of tough tactics against politicians who vote against its contracts, this is likely just the opening move of a larger campaign against Riemer.

The union has published more than 30 photos of its protest at Riemer’s home. Some of them show Riemer’s house itself. I won’t be reposting actual images of the house, but here are a few of the protestors.

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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.

*****

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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MoCo Political Awards 2019

By Adam Pagnucco.

The year 2019 is in the books and it’s time for some political awards, both good and bad.  Buckle up!

Best Freshman Elected Official (County): District 1 Council Member Andrew “Real Deal” Friedson

Let’s go to the lab and create the perfect politician.  We shall start with brains and policy experience.  The person has to be a life-long district resident who roams it constantly, addressing issues large and small.  The person has to hire good staff.  The person has to have the guts to vote no when everyone else votes yes.  Fiscal expertise counts too.  Add it all up and we just created Andrew “Real Deal” Friedson, the new star of the county council.  As a freshman, Friedson is still at the beginning of his elected career.  But his ability is off the charts and the Real Deal has just begun living up to his nickname.

Best Freshman Elected Official (State): District 18 Delegate Jared Solomon

True story: when candidate Jared Solomon was running for a seat in the statehouse, he was one of the very few politicians ever who mailed me a hand-written thank-you letter after our introductory interview.  Since then, he has become an energetic and conscientious Delegate who jumped feet-first into his district’s two biggest issues: the Beltway project and school construction.  Solomon is both one of the smartest people in the room and one of the nicest.  That’s hard to pull off for anyone not named Jamie Raskin.

Reporter of the Year: Caitlynn Peetz, Bethesda Beat

You might think that news on public schools is boring.  If so, you have never read Caitlynn Peetz’s riveting stories on the rapes at Damascus High School and parental clashes over MCPS’s boundary study.  Peetz loves her vocation and it shows.  She digs deeper and works harder than just about anyone else in local media.  She also happens to be a kind, generous and funny person.  How does someone like that wind up in the press?

Will Not Fade Away Award: Brandy Brooks

Most of the county council candidates who did not win in 2018 have faded from the public eye, at least for now.  Not Brandy Brooks.  She maintained her profile with a strong, though unsuccessful, run for planning board and has retained a loyal following among many county progressives.  Last year, I predicted that Brooks would have a great chance to win if she ever runs again and I am now more confident of that than ever.

Most Meaningless New Law of the Year: Liquor Monopoly Name Change

As of July, the county’s Department of Liquor Control was renamed Alcohol Beverage Services.  Does anyone care?  Aside from whatever companies were paid to change the name on the signs and business cards, the answer is a big fat NO.

Whiplash Award #1

In November, the council voted in favor of a bill mandating 30-hour work weeks for some janitors that its own staff predicted would “likely” kill building services jobs.  Two weeks later, the council passed a resolution calling for a renewed commitment to economic development.

Whiplash Award #2

Also in November, the council unanimously passed a new law mandating consideration of racial equity in all county activities.  A week later, the council voted to give $500,000 in tax money to a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corporation.

Labor Union of the Year: MCGEO

How do you get a 6% raise?  You jump up and down and demand a 9% raise, and then when you get 6%, you grudgingly accept it and resolve to come back for the rest later.  2019 will go down as yet another year when MCGEO proved its immense value to its members.

Activists of the Year: YIMBYs

In most years, Council Member Hans Riemer’s bill to liberalize restrictions on accessory dwelling units would have encountered rough sledding and maybe outright defeat.  Not in 2019, as MoCo’s YIMBYs – the acronym stands for “yes in my backyard” – sprang into action and helped get the bill passed.  YIMBYs, unlike NIMBYs, believe MoCo needs more housing and they have emerged as one of the county’s more effective, albeit loosely organized, issue groups.  Additionally, the YIMBY MoCo Facebook page has become one of the most interesting venues for policy and political discussions in the county.  If the YIMBYs get more numerous and better organized, they could have a real impact on the next county election.

Do Not Mess with Me Award: Bob Dorfman

When Council Member Hans Riemer released information showing that county liquor stores were losing money, Alcohol Beverage Services Director Bob Dorfman blew him to smithereens.  Read this quote from WUSA Channel 9 but hide the children first!

“We have an ill-informed councilmember who has got a politically motivated campaign that’s taking something purely out of context because he as a councilmember should have been smart enough to know that a plan had already been put in place almost a year ago that addresses each of the components of the loss,” Alcohol Beverage Services Director Robert Dorfman said.

Dorfman said the county has already cut the stores’ losses by $2-million a year, and hopes they’ll turn a $5-million dollar profit within a few years.

He said Riemer was needlessly panicking employees who work at the stores. “Mr. Riemer, by putting out all this stuff to the press, is causing those employees, hard-working, good, county employees, that he supposedly represents, obviously he’s not doing it very well, obviously he doesn’t care much, those employees are getting calls from customers and family members asking them whether they’re going to have jobs,” Dorfman said.

This is not the first time Dorfman has slammed a liquor monopoly critic.  He once went after Seventh State founder David Lublin too.  All of this has me feeling jealous.  I’m one of the fiercest opponents of the liquor monopoly around and I have written countless columns denouncing it.  What do I have to do to get you to spank me, Bob?

Retirement of the Year: Glenn Orlin

Former county council deputy staff director Glenn Orlin is one of the great heroes of county government who is unknown by much of the general public.  In a decades-long career in both the state and county governments, Glenn has become one of the foremost experts on capital budgets and transportation in all of Maryland.  The council relied on his incredible institutional knowledge, his expertise and his good judgment as much as any other single staff member.  What makes Glenn truly great is not just his competence and experience, but his patience, generosity and ability to teach others.  His legacy includes a huge portfolio of transportation projects, including his beloved Purple Line, as well as generations of folks who have learned from him – including me.  Glenn is still doing contract work for the council, but whoever eventually succeeds him will have very big shoes to fill.

That’s all until next year!

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