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  • Binding arbitration information

    We often have thoughtful questions asked regarding the desire of Hagerstown’s police officers and firefighters to gain formal recognition as bargaining units and for the implementation of a binding arbitration process. 

    First, it is our strong belief that residents must be and feel safe in their own homes and neighborhoods.  If residents don’t feel safe they will not want to remain in our city.  If they don’t feel safe they certainly won’t invest in our city.  It is Hagerstown’s police officers and firefighters who are on the front lines working to maintain safety and security.  This is absolutely our primary concern every day we report to work.  It is dangerous work.  We do our best to make split second decisions – ever mindful of our primary concern and mission.

    We are each represented by a union, or bargaining unit.  The firefighters are IAFF Local 1605 and the police officers are AFSCME Local 3373.  We have a union so that our concerns for our safety and for the safety of our ‘customers’ (residents, visitors, and investors of Hagerstown and the surrounding community) are heard when we bring them to the table.  A union provides us the ability to speak with one voice to our management and elected officials, streamlining communication. 

    Our unions currently are not formally recognized by the City Charter nor is there a process for binding arbitration.  This traditionally was not a problem.  The City Council and the City Administration met regularly with police officers and firefighters.  We had a great working relationship.   This relationship deteriorated over the last three years as we discussed working conditions, pay and benefits.  During the last contract negotiations, each was advised that after a certain date we would have no contract. Both police and fire had many more items to discuss and decide, but were given little relief.  The reasons for this are complex, but both police and fire wanted to continue negotiating in good faith and had no recourse.  Being formally recognized, which members of City Council have publicly stated they support, would clarify the process of negotiations. 

    Binding arbitration, which some members of the current City Council have stated that they do not support, was requested of and denied by that same council.  The process and meaning of binding arbitration is also complex.  It is essentially a process that forces two interests who are in discussions and who have hit an impasse to sit down and to bring their case in front of a neutral arbitrator.  It doesn’t mean that every issue goes to an impasse and to an arbitrator.  In fact, we believe that it will incentivize both parties to work harder for a meaningful solution.  The last thing that police officers and firefighters want is to have to take any issue to binding arbitration.  Remember, when the arbitrator makes their decision, the decision is final.  Nothing says that the decision will be on the side of police officers or firefighters.  It truly is the last resort.

    The process for binding arbitration for which we have asked can be written by the City Council.  They create an ordinance or process for appointing a neutral arbitrator and the factors the arbitrator should consider when making a decision. The City Council also decides the procedures for implementing the arbitrator’s decision when passing or amending the city’s budget.  The City Council still retains all of the power to make decisions and to establish this process.  This process also forbids any type of strike or work stoppage on the part of police officers or firefighters.

    To have binding arbitration and formal recognition of our bargaining units, we needed to first change the City’s Charter. We did this through a petition that was successfully circulated in 2014 calling for the issue to be put on the ballot in 2016.  More than twenty percent of city residents signed in support of police officers and firefighters having an opportunity to put on the ballot an initiative that guarantees and strengthens public safety in and around Hagerstown. The City Council was required by law to put the issue on the ballot for the City’s citizen’s to vote on but the City Council refused to recognize the petition and refused to take any action on the measure, violating state election laws.  This violation forced the police officers and firefighters to file a civil lawsuit against the Mayor and City Council.   

    Filing a lawsuit was a difficult decision because the last thing our city needs is to spend taxpayers’ money on attorneys fighting over laws that have long ago been decided.  The case went to trial and Judge Beachley rendered a decision in less than two weeks, clearly reaffirming the City Council’s duty to put the issue on the ballot in 2016 and ordering them to do so. Now the decision has been made by the Mayor and the City Council to appeal Judge Beachley’s decision, which will cost additional money and time.  We are thoroughly disappointed at this irresponsible decision.  Remember, the petition only requires them to put the issue on a ballot where Hagerstown voters are given the opportunity to decide the outcome.  Why deny Hagerstown’s citizens their right to vote on this important public safety initiative?

    Quite simply stated, our formal recognition and binding arbitration is a process to make sure that the voices of police officers and firefighters are heard.  We are on the streets every day, interacting with our residents often in their worst moments.  We unapologetically believe that safety in the Hub City should be the highest priority.  This referendum will help to ensure that safety comes first.

    Page Last Updated: May 06, 2015 (13:03:28)
  • IAFF local 1605

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