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Fight On Police Union Referendum Heats Up In Montgomery County

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Labor leaders gathered in Gaithersburg October 10 to rally opposition to Question B. The Fraternal Order of Police is calling for people to vote no on Montgomery County's ballot question B.
Matt Bush
Labor leaders gathered in Gaithersburg October 10 to rally opposition to Question B. The Fraternal Order of Police is calling for people to vote no on Montgomery County's ballot question B.

In the second part of his series on the referenda facing Montgomery County voters, Maryland reporter Matt Bush looks at Question B, which would change the way the county negotiates with its police union. The first part explained Question A, which would encourage more hiring of disabled individuals by the county.

Voters in Montgomery County will have to decide on Election Day whether to uphold a law passed by the county council which removed "effects bargaining" — the ability to negotiate over individual management directives — from the county police union's contract. The referendum, known as Question B, has led to an intense campaign.

Montgomery County has police. That might be all the two sides on this issue can agree on. The union, for its part, wants the public to vote no on Question B in order to keep the bargaining tool.

"Under effects bargaining, management always gets to do what they want to do," says Marc Zifcak, the immediate past president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, the county' police union. "All effects bargaining provides is an opportunity for us, the people who are affected by the decision, to discuss up front and hopefully deal with the negative impact."

[10But effects bargaining also means delays or the threat of them, according to county police chief Thomas Manger, who says the ultimate responsibility for the department lies with him.

"It's tough when I negotiate every decision I make with someone who has no responsibility to the public," Manger says. 

Manger points to a decision he made two years ago to shift more officers to Silver Spring following a spike in crime there. He asked for volunteers, and about a dozen officers responded.

"As we were getting that done, the FOP said 'we demand to bargain these voluntary transfers,'" he says. 

Zifcak disputes that account, saying all the union wanted was the chief's written assurances the officers would eventually return to their regular beats  — which, in the end, they received.

"It delayed nothing. We didn't challenge his right to anything," Zifcak says. "We notified him via email that we agree with what he was proposing. We just wanted his signature on his promise. And that's what he did not want to provide."

Supporters of eliminating effects bargaining argue the police union is the only collective bargaining group representing county workers with such powers. 

"The other unions only have effects bargaining in the very narrow case of when management does layoffs," says Patrick Lacefield, director of the county's office of public information. "Then, there's a requirement to negotiate with the unions about how those are done."

Lacefield's office is responsible for the county website urging voters to uphold the law. The website has many opponents, including Lanny Davis, a lawyer advising the police union on the referendum. Davis argues taxpayers dollars should not go to a website he says is full of inaccuracies.

He has offered to debate any county leader on the issue, but to no avail. "Why not show up and tell me I'm wrong," Davis says.  

The law was passed by the council last year by a unanimous vote.

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