This year, the Montgomery County Council has taken several steps to rein in some of the more questionable concessions public employee unions had extracted from the county in previous years. In a county known for granting the unions virtually everything on their wish lists, today’s tough economic climate is forcing the council to restore a little more balance to the relationship.
It has not been easy for anyone, Council President Valerie Ervin and the unions in particular.
First came the inevitable trimming of county employees' health and retirement benefits, to help bring spending back in line with declining revenues.
Then the county moved to rein in some of the more outrageous abuses that had been going on for years in the disability retirement system, replacing it with a new two-tiered system.
Now it appears another blow is about to be struck for common sense. This week, five council members voted to eliminate "effects bargaining" in a joint session of the county's Public Safety and Government Operations and Fiscal Policy committees
While I consider collective bargaining to be a good thing, in this case it's a good thing taken way too far.
The term "effects bargaining" means the union can refer any management decision, including setting work schedules, modernizing computer systems, even mandating the use of email and electronic incident reporting, to a cumbersome collective bargaining process if the decision has any "effect on employees." What management decision doesn't? Police Chief Tom Manger cites some outrageous cases, with delays ranging from two weeks to two years on even the most mundane issues. In practice, it gives way too much power to the unions and prevents any semblance of effective management.
As far as I can determine, effects bargaining is unique to Montgomery County. It's part of the Police Collective Bargaining law, the only county agency that has it. It also appears in state laws covering the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission. Interestingly, all of these agencies have had major issues with management, efficiency and effectiveness. Coincidence? Perhaps our state delegation should look at this, too.
Ervin has introduced legislation (Bill 18-11) to repeal this bizarre provision for county police. The full council will soon take this up, but with five of its nine members voting for it in committee, she's likely to prevail. Only Council Member Marc Elrich objected, for reasons difficult to fathom, beyond pure political pandering and self-interest.
For Ervin to be leading the charge on this issue is impressive, as she got her start in politics as a union organizer and has always been a strong ally of the union movement. In seeking the right balance here, and daring to challenge a status quo that is clearly not working, she deserves our thanks and the full council's support, including Elrich.