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KOVACS: Police union puts bargaining rights ahead of public safety

Montgomery County residents should vote ‘Yes’ on Question B

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On Nov. 6, Montgomery County voters will decide whether the police chief or the head of the police union should determine public-safety policy.

The voter initiative, which will appear on the ballot as Question B, reads, "Shall the Act to modify the scope of collective bargaining with police employees to permit the exercise of certain management rights without first bargaining the effects of those rights on police employees become law?" A vote in favor of Question B eliminates "effects" bargaining.

The story of Question B began in 2011, when the Montgomery County Council unanimously passed legislation to repeal the union head's power to challenge, then bargain over, basic police-chief directives. Before the reform, police management needed union approval to implement any new policy. Officers could not even be required to establish email accounts, let alone respond to emails from county residents.

The union power over management derived from what is called effects bargaining, a privilege the local police union does not intend to lose. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) local gathered more than 40,000 signatures -- more than enough to put Question B on the ballot.

The Montgomery County police chief of staff, Lt. Dave Anderson, says effects bargaining makes contract negotiations never-ending by giving unions a "second bite at the apple." What the FOP cannot gain from the county in contract negotiations it can bargain for unceasingly in this manner. No other police force in Maryland enjoys this privilege, nor does any other public-employee union in Montgomery County.

A pro-Question B website lists 15 police department policies the FOP held up with effects-bargaining claims. A few examples of postponed police policy:

"The distribution of critical police equipment ... the redeployment of officers to crime hot spots ... and even the revised policy on 'Use of Force' -- important to protecting the public and officers alike -- which was sent to the Police Union for its 'approval' on June 27, 2008."

Under effects bargaining, police officers still don't have to sign their time cards. It took months for the chief of police to gain the right to require police officers to have county email accounts -- or to check their email.

Voters should keep in mind the problems with allowing the FOP or any public-sector union official to possess overreaching power over the government employer's decision-making process. Union bosses' allegiance lies with their members and not the public. This hinders government's ability to provide essential services in a reliable fashion.

Trey Kovacs is a labor policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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