Laurel’s police officers are one step closer to receiving collective bargaining rights at the same time the city is facing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit in connection with an alleged case of police brutality.
The mayor and city council voted unanimously Monday to pass legislation to amend the charter to allow for collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is not allowed under the city’s current charter.
“This is the first piece,” Councilman Frederick Smalls (Dist. 4) said. “It establishes the framework for any future collective bargaining efforts that might be brought by the City Council.”
Kimberly Rau, clerk of the council, said the change takes effect Nov. 13, and the mayor and council also need to adopt a labor code that helps to define the working terms and conditions for police officers. Doing so would require a public hearing, but Rao said no date for such a hearing has been set.
No one showed up to speak at the meeting, which began at 7 p.m. regarding the collective bargaining efforts.
Efforts by police to receive collective bargaining rights come as the city faces a $3 million lawsuit after video surfaced of a city officer appearing to hit the face of a black man who had been handcuffed on Aug. 5. The man, D’Ante Williams of Cottage City, has filed the lawsuit against city, claiming personal injury and mental anguish. The officer, Pfc. J. Diaz-Chavarria, has been put on administrative leave while an investigation is underway.
Zack Rexine, a Laurel police officer and secretary of Fraternal Order of Police Laurel Lodge 11, said after Monday’s meeting he could not comment on the lawsuit or the timing of the police officers’ efforts to receive collective bargaining rights. He said, however, that receiving collective bargaining rights is important because it provides the officers with a greater sense of economic security.
“It’s another step to attract the best possible police officers to Laurel,” he said.
He noted Bowie’s police department received collective bargaining rights last month. He said this might be part of the reason why Laurel’s mayor and council now are receptive to the idea.
Jesse Conyngham, a Laurel officer and president of FOP Laurel Lodge 11, said city officers have been fighting to receive these rights for roughly 30 years.
County Councilman Phil Andrews (D), has been chair of Montgomery County’s public safety committee since 2000. He said he would advise Laurel’s mayor and city council to limit the scope of any collective bargaining to salary, benefits, health and safety issues.
He said Montgomery County erred in allowing for “effects bargaining” when it established collective bargaining for its police officers 30 years ago. Effects bargaining allows the county police union to negotiate with the county regarding the daily operation of the department, such as, Andrews said, when a chief decides how to allocate equipment.
“The downside of effects bargaining is that it ties the police department in knots and results in unreasonable delays that hurt the public,” Andrews said.
Andrews said Montgomery’s council voted unanimously last year to all but eliminate effects bargaining except when a decision would result in layoffs for the police. He said county voters will get to decide in November whether to keep or repeal the limitations put in place by the council on effects bargaining.