Baltimore Police Union Overwhelmingly Rejects Contract Offer

March 22, 2024
In a note to the union's membership, the head of Baltimore's Fraternal Order of Police lodge said an "impasse" had been reached in contract negotiations, setting up the first step toward an arbitration process.

Baltimore Police officers on Thursday overwhelmingly rejected the city’s latest contract proposal, with union leadership slamming the offer as “shameful and insulting.”

In a note sent out to Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 members, union president Mike Mancuso said more than 1,000 members had turned down the offer with a resounding 99% of two separate bargaining units voting no. Mancuso said the vote took place Thursday after the lodge had reached an “impasse” in contract negotiations.

The mayor’s office said in a statement that it was “disappointed the FOP is taking this approach.”

“The mayor looks forward to resolving the concerns and finalizing negotiations,” the statement said.

Impasse is the first step toward an arbitration process, which Mancuso said the union has told the administration is “where we are going.”

The police union hasn’t filed for arbitration before, believing it was better to “stay at the table and negotiate,” Mancuso said. When police similarly rejected a labor contract in 2017, negotiations between the city and union continued.

This time, however, the union is considering the binding arbitration process laid out in the city’s public local laws. It would create a board of arbitration to consider and ultimately determine compensation for police officers; the board’s decision would be “final and binding,” under the law.

“The city could always ask us back to meet before that starts,” Mancuso said in a text message. “But it would have to be for a meaningful offer for us to meet. We would not meet to listen to a new offer that would continue to offend our members like their last offer.”

In his letter to members, Mancuso said the city’s best proposal would have put the agency “further behind in pay and working conditions compared to the other large police departments in the state.” The specific terms were not disclosed.

The union’s contract bars members from striking and boycotting.

Mancuso warned that the department is hundreds of officers short and also described a group of roughly 450 officers that’s  eligible to retire within the next year. The current contract expires at the end of fiscal year 2024, which is June 30.

“The city cannot flourish without public safety first and there can be no public safety without a fully staffed police department,” Mancuso said in the letter. “The BPD needs to start taking recruitment and retention of officers seriously.”

Baltimore Police, like police departments across the country, has struggled with recruiting and retaining officers. Vacancies, particularly in patrol, have presented challenges in meeting the expectations of the city’s policing consent decree with the federal government. That agreement was reached following a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that found constitutional violations in how the city policed residents.

Police Commissioner Richard Worley has publicly said the department may have fewer than 2,000 police officers by the end of April, despite being authorized to have 2,599 officers.

The department has moved toward hiring more civilians, including as investigators, to help plug staffing holes. The city also beefed up its non-police emergency response and encouraged the use of telephone or online reporting systems for smaller concerns.

A three-year contract agreement reached in 2021 raised pay for new officers from $55,000 to $60,000 per year. At the time, it made Baltimore the highest-paying major law enforcement agency in the state for new recruits. The prior agreement, in 2018, provided annual raises of 3% through 2021.

More recently, in mid-2022, Baltimore Police offered a $5,000 signing bonus for new employees. That bonus has since doubled to $10,000.

Additionally, the agency offers some student loan assistance and referral bonuses.

The current starting salary for officers is $61,349, according to the department’s recruitment page. It advertises that “top officers” can earn up to $102,995.

Police aren’t the only ones struggling. The Fire Department also has staffing woes, including vacancies in one of out of every four EMS positions. Earlier this year, the city’s spending board approved a bonus of $7,500 for employees who remain with the city for three years.

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©2024 Baltimore Sun.

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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