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Maryland ends enhanced coronavirus pay for thousands of front-line state employees

Maryland’s state government has stopped paying extra salary to thousands of state employees who work in jobs made risky by the coronavirus pandemic, including police officers and some prison guards and hospital staff.

Union leaders said the state notified them of the change in a one-sentence email Thursday night that read: “Please be advised that Response Pay ended on September 8 and will not be extended.”

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Early in the pandemic, some employees had received double pay. That shifted later to an additional $3.13 per hour for those who work in “24/7” jobs, such as police, correctional officers, juvenile center staff and hospital employees. People working directly in coronavirus quarantine areas received another $2 per hour.

Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration extended the enhanced pay several times over the spring and summer before halting it without explanation this week.

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The enhanced pay had been costing the state about $3.3 million for each two-week pay period.

The governor’s office declined to comment Friday, referring questions to the state Department of Budget and Management. That department issued a statement saying the extra pay was necessary to “incentivize” employees to work “when there were so many unanswered questions about the virus itself and how it spreads.”

“With our state moving into the next stage of recovery and more people going back to work, there is less of a need for this temporary program,” the department’s statement read.

After word of the elimination of extra pay spread, the administration said it would continue to pay $5.13 additional per hour to employees working in quarantine units, such as those in a prison or at a state hospital.

“To clarify, Response Pay has ended but the additional pay differential for employees working in quarantine areas will continue,” Cindy Kollner, the state’s personnel director, wrote in an email Friday to union leaders. “Employees working in quarantine areas will continue to receive the $5.13 pay differential.”

But thousands of employees will lose the extra $3.13 they had received hourly, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Maryland Council 3, the union representing the largest number of state employees.

State officials could not say exactly how many employees' paychecks are affected, “because of the ever-shifting nature” of the pandemic response.

AFSCME President Patrick Moran called the change “callous" and “a slap in the face to hardworking state employees.” He criticized Hogan and state budget secretary David Brinkley.

“As they video conference from their homes, they go and cut the pay of front-line Marylanders preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Moran said in a statement.

AFSCME said at least 800 state employees have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least two have died.

While the state reports positive cases among workers at prisons and juvenile detention centers, there has been no public reporting of all state employees who have tested positive.

Since the state began tracking coronavirus infections in March, more than 114,000 Marylanders have tested positive and at least 3,685 have died.

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