The Baltimore City Council bill that never was.

It is a bill that was not introduced at last Monday’s meeting of the Baltimore City Council that could be the most important bill drafted for the council this year. It is the bill that may have encouraged Lodge 3 of the Fraternal Order of Police (the FOP) to reach agreement with the city on a new collective bargaining agreement.

On October 29th I received an email from the city’s Department of Legislative Reference that included the draft of a bill. The author of the email said the bill was “inspired” by a piece that I wrote published in the Baltimore Brew on October 17th, and that the member of the city council who had requested that the Department of Legislative Reference draft the bill wanted me to review it.

My guest commentary in the Baltimore Brew chastised the city council for not acting to break the years-long impasse over the FOP’s reluctance to give up the 4×10 shift schedule by withdrawing the issue of shift schedules from the scope of collective bargaining. I made the same argument in an op-ed published earlier this year by the Baltimore Sun.

The bill withdrew the subject of “the structuring and scheduling of shifts” from the scope of collective bargaining between the city and employee unions as I had proposed. I reviewed the bill as requested and made some suggested changes.

Here is a link to the bill:  https://davidplymyerdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/munic-labor-relations-scope-bill-11-20-18.pdf

On November 3rd the FOP issued a notice to its members that a tentative agreement had been reached with the city. The agreement included a return to a 5×8 shift schedule for patrol officers as well as the addition of civilian members to hearing boards constituted under the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR).

The initial reaction to the proposed agreement by FOP members was overwhelmingly negative. I am informed that union president Sgt. Michael Mancuso worked long and hard to explain the agreement to his members.

On November 13th FOP members voted to ratify the agreement. Sgt. Mancuso said the following in a press release:

“While our members agreed that this proposal was less than ideal, the alternative to acceptance was dismal, at best. Instead they made the hard choice to preserve our contractual rights, going forward.”

To what “alternative to acceptance” was Sgt. Mancuso referring, and why was that alternative “dismal, at best”? And why was it necessary for the FOP to accept the city’s proposal “to preserve our contractual rights”?

Was Sgt. Mancuso referring to the bill that had been drafted and was ready for introduction? I don’t know for sure, but the timing of the drafting of the bill and the reluctant acceptance by the union of a “less than ideal” proposal seems like more than a coincidence. If the draft bill was a shot over the bow of the FOP by legislators, it wouldn’t be the first time such a thing was done.

My guess is that Sgt. Mancuso was telling his members that they better get the best deal possible before they lost the right to negotiate over shift schedules entirely. And he probably was right. I was informed last week that there is no plan to introduce the bill stripping the union of that right at this time – probably because the draft bill had accomplished its purpose of inducing the FOP to soften its hardline stance.

The bill I reviewed made no mention of civilians on police hearing boards. In the Baltimore Sun op-ed mentioned above, however, I also pointed out how Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Rowe had basically provided the city a road map on how to put civilians on the hearing boards without the consent of the FOP.

As it happens, State Senator Nathaniel McFadden had solicited Ms. Rowe’s advice after he read another op-ed by me reaching the same conclusion in July 2016. So, my other guess is that the next bill to be drafted was a bill following Ms. Rowe’s road map to put civilians on hearing boards.

Why is any of this worth mentioning? For only one reason, and that is if it helps to debunk the myth that the Baltimore City Council is powerless to influence the course of events in the Baltimore Police Department.

Members of the council perpetrate this myth, and it is one of my major pet peeves because it is intended to mislead the public. The myth serves to protect council members from being held accountable by the voters, and it gives them an excuse for not making politically-fraught decisions.

Council members tend to wring their hands and point their fingers when it comes to the Baltimore Police Department. They have less of a tendency to do anything worthwhile, especially when it comes to legislation.

I don’t know the identity of the council member who initiated the drafting of the bill that was sent to me, but I give credit to whomever it was for taking a step in the right direction. I believe that he or she gave the negotiations between the city and the FOP the push that they needed.

And please don’t accuse the council member who initiated the bill of “union-busting.” It is the job of the City Council under the City Charter to put reasonable limits on collective bargaining by identifying those management decisions on agency operations that should not be subject to negotiation, and then legislating accordingly. At the end of the day the Baltimore City Council must put the interests of the citizens of the city first, even if council members occasionally have to be reminded of that.

And credit also to Sgt. Mancuso. He not only did the right thing, he did the smart thing. Collective bargaining rights for public employees are not written into the state or federal constitutions. Lodge 3 would not have been the first public employee union to overplay its hand, winning a battle or two and then losing the war.

City officials touted the new collective bargaining agreement as a “win” for both police officers and the city. In my opinion, whether or not it constituted a “win” is not the point. It was a fair and reasonable deal for both sides, and that is the applicable standard.

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