Firefighters lobby for the right to negotiate higher pay and benefits at a recent meeting of the Frederick County Council.

Firefighters, County Council Members Clash over Collective Bargaining

There were enough fire department personnel for a working three alarm fire at a crowded meeting in Frederick on Feb. 11. That night, Frederick County voting citizens, and active and retired fire and rescue members came to Winchester Hall to speak and support firefighters against the proposed legislation before the Frederick County Council.

Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater proposed a bill to address Question D, a ballot issue approved by 73 percent of Frederick County voters in November 2018. Question D gave career firefighters collective bargaining rights, and binding arbitration when negotiating pay and benefits. How far those rights would go, however, was up to the council.

Ultimately, on Feb. 18, the council decided to go along with Fitzwater’s proposal for a neutral arbitrator who will consider the impact of pay raises negotiated by the firefighter’s union on the county’s budget. The arbitrator will also consider the county’s limited ability to raise taxes under state law.

At the Feb. 11 meeting, a large group of current and retired firefighters, wearing yellow shirts displaying the Frederick Firefighter’s Union 3666, filled up Winchester Hall. There, firefighters took issue with Fitzwater’s proposal.

Warren Stevens, a veteran firefighter who retired as a fire chief after serving for 56 years in Frederick and Montgomery counties, said, “These actions are dramatically anti-labor, but worse, they are anti-voter. Council member Fitzwater should do the right thing and amend the bill to conform to the statewide definition of binding arbitration and to the will of the voters.”

Stephen Jones, president of the local firefighter’s union, said courts have sided with firefighters in other collective bargaining cases in Maryland. Bill Rossomondo, vice president of the local firefighter’s union, said the council should listen to the voters.

Local firefighters were seeking collective bargaining rights to improve pay, benefits, and training for Frederick County’s firefighters. Many say that firefighters often train in Frederick County, then leave for higher paying jobs elsewhere.

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