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Baltimore firefighters, police unions say planned pay cut is ‘disrepectful’

Union representatives for Baltimore’s police and firefighters Friday denounced as “disrespectful” the city’s plan to cut their wages by 2 percent effective Jan. 21.

In a 30-minute news conference in front of City Hall, union leaders and a group of about 50 police and firefighters said the city is “not safe yet” because of the setbacks to their departments, which have included rotating fire station closings this past year because of budget shortfalls.

“The 2 percent reduction in pay is outrageous, it’s a shame and it’s a slap in the face and disrespectful to the men and women of this police department who have delivered for this mayor and this city crime reduction that has not been seen in decades,” said Robert F. Cherry Jr., president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Baltimore City Lodge #3.

“In order to get the bad guys off the streets, we need the good guys and the good women who go out there every day and night and put their life on the line and get that job done,” he said. “Today, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake sent a message to those good guys and women that their concern is not her concern.”

Watch video from the protest

Mayor Rawlings-Blake issued a statement through her spokesman, Ryan O’Doherty, following the news conference that blamed the pay cuts on the city’s  fiscal woes.

“Mayor Rawlings-Blake deeply appreciates the sacrifices every city employee has made to keep the City going, delivering core services during worst fiscal crisis in the City’s modern history and this shared sacrifice has prevented 350 additional layoffs this fiscal year,” the statement said.

Police and firefighters received notice of the pay cuts through the end of the fiscal year on June 30 in letters attached to their paychecks this week.

Firefighters had negotiated a new contract with the city that called for the 2 percent pay cuts, balanced out by five extra paid vacation days.

The police union had been in negotiation with the city for months, but those talks ended in November after members voted down a one-year contract that proposed a 2 percent pay cut and five extra vacation days to balance the wage reduction. City officials took the rejected contract to arbitration and won, and imposed the 2 percent pay cut — without the vacation days — as a result.

Dejected, union members on Friday said they planned to continue to protest the cuts.

“Our firefighters are out there working under horrible conditions,” said Bon Sledgeski, president of the Baltimore Fire Fighters Local 734. “They’ve done their work with one arm tied behind their back. They say ‘thank you for doing such a great job –- now we’re going to cut your pay.’ ”

Sledgenski said the Rawlings-Blake administration has refused to entertain counter-proposals from the union.

“They refuse to sit down and hear ideas other than their own,” he charged. “They won’t listen.”

Pay cuts have hit nearly all ranks in city government this year.

Rawlings-Blake has agreed to take a 6.73 percent reduction in her salary this year, and Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III has agreed to a 4.23 percent wage reduction. Bealefeld has also agreed to working 11 days unpaid, a City Hall source said.

City Councilman Carl Stokes attended the news conference and said the austere budget conditions the city is working under have made for tense working conditions all around.

“Last year and the year before that, the employees have taken furloughs, which amount to a cut in pay,” Stokes said, of five mandatory furlough days imposed on city workers. “To ask workers to take a pay cut and not show any end in sight is wrong.”

Early budget warnings for next year show the city is facing an $81 million shortfall, which could grow based on further state cuts to local governments.

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