Councilman Philip M. Andrews is the sole candidate to file so far for Montgomery County executive, and the career firefighters union fears that if Andrews becomes the next executive in 2014, he would do more harm than good.
“He’s viewed as someone who doesn’t support the unions, especially us,” said John Sparks, president of the Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association Inc., International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1664. “When it’s something to do with unions, something we’ve done with collective bargaining, he opposes it.”
Andrews has not had the union’s endorsement since 2002, Spark said, and yet Andrews is serving his fourth term on the council.
“The unions definitely play a significant role in elections in the county, but it’s one factor in the outcome of the election. It’s not the only one, of course,” Andrews said. “I think that the key issue in any race is does a candidate stand up for what is in the public interest. My record is well known on the council for more than 14 years.”
For most of his tenure, the union and Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg have been on the outs, with retirement changes, pay increases, ambulance fees, and a street-side fundraiser deepening the chasm between the two.
But not every issue. Andrews supported issues including four-person staffing on apparatus and sprinklers in new homes.
“Firefighters are wonderful people and we ought to be grateful that these people devote their lives and their energies to serving the people of Montgomery County,” he said.
Montgomery County Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association Executive Director Eric Bernard did not have an ill word of Andrews.
“Phil is the greatest guy,” Bernard said. “Phil has been a friend of the fire department since the day he walked on that council.”
Yet when it comes to most of his votes, Andrews and the firefighters union rarely see eye to eye.
“I ask myself, ‘What is in the public interest?’ on any particular issue,” Andrews said, noting he does not accept campaign dollars from any special interests.
Among his key considerations when he votes, Andrews said, are whether a policy is cost-effective and if it will improve public safety, public health and general welfare.
Despite Andrews’ clear stance, union leaders often are left scratching their heads.
“It’s really mind-boggling some of the positions he takes,” Sparks said. “It’s gotta be because he is anti-union; it’s the only thing I can think of.”
Andrews said he is not anti-union, but that his job is different from that of the union.
“I don’t take a position because a group asks me to,” he said. “I listen to everybody, but I decide for myself after listening whether its something that I think is in the public interest or not.”
Bernard called the disconnect between the councilman and the union ironic given Andrews’ progressive stance on issues, even if he is fiscally conservative.
In April, Andrews stood alone in opposing union-negotiated raises for employees, arguing that while employees deserved increases, they were excessive and unsustainable.
Last year, he continued opposing an ambulance fee, calling it bad policy that drew lines based on where someone resided.
Overturned by voters in 2010, the fee, now a reimbursement program, narrowly passed the council in 2012. In fiscal year 2014, the county estimates it will generate about $18 million.
In 2011, Andrews tried to prevent charitable solicitation by county employees during work hours. The measure would have effectively ended firefighters’ annual fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association known as Fill the Boot, which typically raises between $200,000 and $250,000 for local families.
“I don’t want people soliciting in the street. It’s unsafe; it’s unsafe for firefighters,” Andrews said.
Yet in nearly 30 years, not one firefighter has been hurt, Sparks said.
In 2007, Andrews opposed a 20-year retirement provision for firefighters, saying it raised retirement costs for the county.
“We spend a lot of money to train firefighters, and we want them to stay, not leave, when in the prime of their career,” he said.
Sparks said only 10 people have taken advantage of 20-year retirement since it passed the council.
Despite their differences, Sparks said the rift is not personal.
“I have nothing against Phil personally. He’s been very open and honest with us,” he said.