A county executive has decided to ignore the collective-bargaining process with their public employee unions and rejects the results of binding arbitration over pensions and health care.
Republican Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin? Nope. It’s an African-American liberal Democratic county executive just outside Washington, D.C. County executive Isaiah Leggett, who presides over the wealthiest, most liberal and most Democratic county in the national capital area, has decided to rip up its collective bargaining agreement with its government unions.
The reason? Montgomery County has only enough money to pay for 3% of the lucrative pensions and health care packages it once negotiated with its government unions. Combined, the county is seeing a shortfall of $4.8 billion and no means to pay for it.
Yesterday the Washington Post featured the fight on their front page. The county is a long time liberal bastion and bedroom community for tens of thousands of federal workers, many of whom belong to a government union. It’s border sits astride the District of Columbia. It is the wealthiest county in the Washington area. Yet even this liberal area could not stomach the sweetheart deals enacted by ambitious government unions in 2005 and 2006.
The details of the retirement deals are flabbergasting. A 2005 pension program cut with the firefighter’s union permits retirement, no matter their age, after 20 years of service rather than 25. In 2006 the teachers went one better, cutting a similar deal but retroactively pushing back the plush retirement benefits to all workers employed since 1998. All receive free health care for life and none were required contribute a penny toward their pensions.
As a result, many government workers have “retired” in their 40’s with full retirement benefits. It is bankrupting the county which is has a liability of $4.8 billion in pension and health obligations. And like many states and counties across the country, it has set aside only 3% of its obligations. Leggett wants them to make minor contributions into their benefit packages and make changes to their final payouts. No deal says the unions.
Leggett also rejected an arbitrator’s decision forbidding the county to change any of the agreements. And he has informed the union he no longer will feel constrained to honor their collective bargaining agreement.
His prescription to the county is tough love. He wants to:
• Cut county services and divert the money to pay for pensions and health care.
• Impose significantly higher employee contributions for those benefits.
• Chop benefits to retirees.
• Sharply raise taxes.
WaPo notes, “Leggett said he supports collective bargaining but must, under the county’s charter, do what is fiscally responsible for taxpayers, binding arbitration or not.”
Meanwhile, enraged union leaders are talking tough. Some are calling Leggett a “cheese head.” Said Gino Renne, head of the county’s government employee union, “He drew a line in sand, pretty much like the radical Republicans in Wisconsin.”
Looks like son-of-Wisconsin has just dropped into Washington, D.C.