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Deputies seeking right to negotiate

October 24, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County Sheriff's Department deputies are seeking authority from state legislators to negotiate their salaries and benefits, but they'll have to do so without the support of the Washington County Commissioners.

County Attorney Richard Douglas said Thursday the commissioners decided this week not to endorse a request from Cpl. James Cooper that deputies receive collective bargaining rights.

The Maryland General Assembly would have to give the deputies that authority.

Douglas said Cooper made the written request to the commissioners on the behalf of most of the law enforcement deputies at the department.

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The commissioners acknowledged publicly at Tuesday's commissioners meeting that the request had been made, but Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said it should be discussed in closed session, citing legal concerns.

Douglas said he could not reveal what the legal concerns were, but said the commissioners came to a consensus not to support the request.

Commissioner John C. Munson said none of the five commissioners favored the proposal, but he declined to say why.

"Right now, we're not taking it to the legislators," Munson said.

Snook did not return a phone call placed to his office or home Thursday.

Douglas said deputies could ask the local legislative delegation for support without the commissioners' endorsement.

Cooper said he didn't have a comment on the commissioners' decision, but said interest in obtaining collective bargaining rights wasn't new.

"We've been trying to get this for years," Cooper said.

He said deputies have worked with unions to get bargaining authority, but that never happened.

"It just kind of goes away," he said. "We're doing it on our own now."

Cooper said the department has 80 sworn law enforcement officers, but he didn't know how many would want collective bargaining rights.

Sheriff Charles F. Mades, who said the average starting salary for a deputy is about $27,000, said he wouldn't oppose the efforts of deputies to have the right to negotiate their pay.

According to county documents, the average salary of law enforcement deputies is about $35,000.

"I support (their) request for salaries and benefits," Mades said. "As long as you don't have a problem with the management of the place, that's fine with me."

Before he learned of the commissioners' decision, Cooper said deputies were waiting to hear whether the commissioners endorsed their request before they discussed their next step in seeking the authority.

He said other county departments, such as the Highway Department, have unions.

"I don't know why they wouldn't support giving us the right if other county employees have it," Cooper said.

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