The Montgomery County Council did not violate county or state laws when it passed an operating budget that rejected part of the police union’s collective bargaining agreement and did not fund three categories of employee benefits, a state appellate court has held.
“The County Council … had the express authority and unilateral discretion to reject the proposed wage increase and to fund partially the disputed employee benefits,” the Court of Special Appeals held in an opinion filed May 30.
Judge Albert J. Matricciani, Jr. wrote the opinion, which was joined by Chief Judge Peter B. Krauser and Judge Shirley M. Watts.
On May 26, 2011, Matricciani wrote, the council passed a resolution that adopted a fiscal 2012 operating budget to fund its obligations under a collective bargaining agreement reached between the police officers’ union and the county executive. The budget did not provide funds for wage increase or employment benefits, and reduced the county’s contributions to the officers’ retirement plans and to the officers’ life, accidental death and dismemberment, medical, vision, dental, and drug insurance premiums.
On June 24, 2011, the Fraternal Order of Police, Montgomery County Lodge 35, and 10 of its members, filed suit in Montgomery County Circuit Court. The union sought declaratory and injunctive relief and alleged that the council’s actions breached the collective bargaining contract, violated the Montgomery County Police Labor Relations Act and violated the Maryland Declaration of Rights.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Joseph M. Quirk, however, disagreed. Quirk dismissed two counts of the complaint on March 1, 2012, entered summary judgment in favor of the county and council on all remaining counts, and issued a declaratory judgment upholding the county and council’s actions as lawful.
The union appealed Quirk’s decision on April 2, 2012.
In affirming the lower court’s opinion, the Court of Special Appeals said the Montgomery County Police Labor Relations Act does not state that the council must adopt a proposed agreement, or that it must fund its existing obligation to provide employee benefits. That rendered moot the police union’s argument that the council did not have authority or power to change the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
“…a strict prohibition of ‘changes’ appears nowhere in the [Police Labor Relations Act]; it is the FOP’s invention,” Matricciani wrote. “…Thus, even the FOP recognizes in its brief that [the law] authorizes the County Council to either appropriate or not appropriate funds needed for the collective bargaining agreement, and to implement or not implement the agreement.”
William Chen, Jr., an attorney at Chen & McCabe LLP in Rockville, represented the police union. Chen declined to comment Friday except to say the union will ask the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, to review the case.
Edward B. Lattner, an attorney in the Office of the County Attorney, said in a telephone interview Friday he was happy with the opinion.
“This confirms the council’s authority in making the budget. It is not bound by the collective bargaining agreement and is not bound to fund the collective bargaining agreement,” he said.
Montgomery County Councilman Phil Andrews has been chairman of Montgomery County’s public safety committee since 2000. Andrews said Friday the opinion is not a surprise because the law is very clear about the county’s authority to approve the funding of the contract with the police force.
“The council maintains that authority on a year-to-year basis,” he said. “The council can reject funding or decline to fund the contract in whole or part. It has the final say in the budget.”
WHAT THE COURT HELD
Fraternal Order of Police, Montgomery County Lodge 35 v. Montgomery County, CSA No. 107, Sept. Term 2012. Reported. Opinion by Matricciani, J. Argued April 2, 2013. Filed May 30, 2013.
Did the Montgomery County Council violate the Montgomery County Police Labor Relations Act or the Maryland Declaration of Rights when it passed an operating budget that rejected a proposed amendment to the police union’s collective bargaining agreement and did not fund three categories of employee benefits.
No; The Court of Special Appeals said the Montgomery County Council has the authority to approve the funding of the contract with the police force
William Chen, Jr., Chen & McCabe LLP in Rockville, represented the police union; Edward B. Lattner, an attorney in the Office of the County Attorney, represented Montgomery County.
RecordFax #13-0530-02 (7 pages).