The International Association of Firefighters Local 5184 in Carroll County has asked county officials to recognize the union as the exclusive representative of firefighters and emergency medical services employees who will work in the county’s new Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.
But the union’s proposed legislation will not make it through this year, as the Board of Carroll County Commissioners has made it clear it will not support it.
Commissioners issued a news release Jan. 26 declaring their opposition to the legislation. On Jan. 27, Michael Fowler, the county’s legislative liaison to the Maryland General Assembly, also sent a two-page letter on behalf of the commissioners to the county’s delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, stating the commissioners’ opposition.
“The county is in the beginning stages of hiring for the department,” Fowler said. “It is inappropriate to confer ‘exclusive representation’ to a union and impose it on yet-to-be-hired employees.”
The International Association of Firefighters Local 5184 is the union that represents professional, full-time career fire and EMS personnel at 13 of Carroll County’s 14 volunteer fire and rescue companies. As the county prepares to hire up to 240 employees for the department in the next two years, the union is asking to continue to be recognized as the exclusive union representing firefighters and EMS.
In Carroll County’s form of government, the commissioners do not have the power to pass the bill. Members of Carroll’s delegation to the General Assembly must support and introduce the legislation.
Sen. Justin Ready, who represents Carroll County’s District 5, said the delegation has no plans to introduce the legislation at this time, since the county is still in the process of forming the new Department of Fire and EMS.
A union official, who declined to be named, said though the union was “surprised” the commissioners issued a news release announcing their opposition, the union understands the county’s and Ready’s positions. The union will seek to meet with commissioners in the future.
“We want to see this legislation move forward in a good way,” without any controversy, the official said.
The push to create a combination paid and volunteer county fire service in Carroll County began more than a decade ago. In 2018, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation allowing the county to establish the new department and in October 2020, commissioners unanimously voted to pass an ordinance creating it.
The department’s director and chief, Michael Robinson Sr., is in the middle of staffing the new department. The application period for hiring firefighters, emergency medical technicians, firefighter paramedics, paramedics and fire apparatus drivers, ended on Monday. Robinson said 32 of those hired will be assigned to the Westminster Volunteer Fire Company, 12 to the Taneytown Volunteer Fire Company, 24 to Sykesville, 32 to Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Department, 12 to the Manchester Volunteer Fire Company, and 12 to the Reese Volunteer Company in Westminster.
Commissioners said it is too early to have talks with union leaders.
“The county is in only the beginning stages of hiring and the bill could inappropriately impose conditions of employment on the yet to be hired employees, who would not have a voice in this option,” the news release from commissioners said.
Though the proposed legislation says the union excludes any requirement for collective bargaining between the county and the union, Fowler doesn’t see it that way.
“Although the proposed legislation purports to exclude collective bargaining from its grant of rights, in practice it operates in much the same,” he said in his letter to the delegation. “For example, the language does not define the subjects which would trigger a request to ‘meet and confer,’ and provides for written binding memoranda of understanding on wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment for the represented employees.
“In addition, there are no limits on the right to engage in protected activities,” he said. “Absent a prohibition on striking, labor shortages and picketing, the proposed legislation authorizes this activity.”
Finally, the legislation does state an employee has the right to “take part in or refrain from taking part in forming, joining, supporting or participating in any employee organization or its lawful activities.”
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