More than 50 firefighters, most of them in yellow shirts, sat in the first-floor hearing room of Winchester Hall on Tuesday night.
Those shirts had “IAFF 3666” written on them, the abbreviation for the county’s career firefighters union. And those firefighters and others were present to persuade County Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D) and other council members to amend a bill adding collective bargaining and binding arbitration, among other provisions, to county law.
The bill is a result of a ballot issue passed with more than 70 percent of the vote in November 2018, stipulating those provisions into county code. But many who testified at Tuesday’s public hearing said the bill does not fulfill the objective of that ballot issue, known as Question D.
Fitzwater introduced the bill in January, after meeting with a work group composed of county officials and the county’s career firefighters union, the International Association of Firefighters Local 3666 (IAFF 3666), multiple times last year.
The legislation defined an impasse procedure if both the county and IAFF 3666 officials do decide on binding arbitration, but firefighters were concerned that given the current language of the bill, any decision decided by a third-party arbitrator could be negated by the County Council through its budget process.
Stephen Jones, president of IAFF 3666, said the process between when work group meetings stopped and the bill drafting was not transparent.
“Why did we waste everyone’s time with this work group by blatantly ignoring the information from the subject matter expert and pencil whip the legislation behind closed doors?” Jones said. “What good does this do?”
Jones and several others cited Atkinson v. Anne Arundel County, a case decided in the state’s Court of Appeals in 2016. In that case, the court determined that counties should fund awards determined by neutral arbitrators — and IAFF 3666 members think this should guide Fitzwater and other council members when drafting the bill’s language.
Fitzwater said after the meeting she needed to “digest” the public hearing testimony before deciding whether to amend her bill. Other firefighters, however, echoed Jones’ concerns about the apparent lack of transparency in the bill drafting process.
Billy Rossomondo, vice president of IAFF 3666, said the council should not have the ability to cut from the third-party arbitrator’s decision, given what county voters passed in November 2018.
“I am before you ... to ask you to amend the legislation, do the right thing, honor the will of the voters, and move forward from the politics,” Rossomondo said.
Some who spoke were retired firefighters. That included John Neary of Middletown, a former president of IAFF 3666. Neary said the spirit of negotiations is damaged if the council has the ability to cut money from any agreement that county officials and IAFF 3666 reach.
“The idea is we come to the table, we bargain in good faith,” Neary said of that concept.
Charlie Snyder, president of Francis Scott Key Lodge Post 91 — the Frederick Police Department union — also testified in support of the ballot issue. He said council members should be approving the will of the voters, since they voted them into office and approved Question D.
The language would also help Frederick County recruit and retain firefighters in the long run, he said.
“Frederick County should not be a revolving door for firefighters. … Frederick County should be a preferred employer for firefighters,” Snyder said.
The council will either amend or vote on Fitzwater’s bill in the coming weeks. If it is amended, another public hearing is likely required, per the county charter.