Paying homage to Netflix’ hit “House of Cards,” Maryland’s highest court upheld a decision that the Montgomery County Council acted within its power when it refused to fund portions of negotiated employee benefits during the recession.
“‘Proximity to power deludes some into thinking they wield it,’” observed the character Francis Underwood, portrayed by Kevin Spacey, in the U.S.-version of the television series ‘House of Cards.’ Petitioner here, the Fraternal Order of the Police, Montgomery County Lodge 35 (“FOP”), fell under such a spell in maintaining this litigation,” Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. wrote in his opinion released Friday.
Lodge 35 sued the county in 2011 over changes the council made in the fiscal 2012 budget to negotiated employee benefits. According to the court, the council refused to accept the union’s bargained agreement, sending parties back to the table. But the parties failed to reach a new agreement in time and the council chose not to fund portions of the benefits in the budget.
“By the very nature of the Council’s budgetary approval function, if the parties do not set forth an acceptable agreement, then the Council must have the authority to finalize the budgetary process and determine which provisions in the CBA [collective bargaining agreement] should be cut, and in what manner, in order to reach set budgetary goals,” Harrell wrote. “In this case, no agreement was reached; none was proposed to the Council; and, thus, the Council acted correctly in making the cuts where deemed necessary.”
The union challenged the council’s action and has twice appealed lower court decisions that also found the council acted within its authority.
Marc Zifcak, immediate past president of Lodge 35 said the union does not agree with the decision and that the ruling does not solve the problem.
“We have a contract for benefits. The county should honor its contracts and not try to circumvent it,” he said.
“We’re happy that the Court of Appeals made the decision that the council acted within its powers when it declined to appropriate money for part of a collective bargaining agreement,” County Executive Spokesman Patrick Lacefield said, adding that this is the county’s latest in a line of victories against the union in the high court.