Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration has halted pay increases for state employees working during the coronavirus outbreak, saying the state has “taken every reasonable and appropriate measure to protect employees and control the spread of this disease in our facilities.”
In a letter to state employees, including corrections officers and hospital workers, the Department of Budget and Management wrote that the state will end premium pay for all essential and mission critical personnel Monday.
According to AFSCME Maryland, the union which represents many of the affected state employees, the state had been paying some essential and mission critical employees double for hourly work since March 12.
But state officials say the additional pay is no longer necessary as they believe agencies have implemented the proper procedures to protect employees from COVID-19 as well as control the spread of the disease inside state facilities.
Cynthia Kollner, executive director of the department’s Office of Personnel Services and Benefits, wrote that “all agencies have provided our emergency responders and employees having direction interaction with the public appropriate levels of personal protective equipment and/or guidance about how to reduce to risk of exposure.”
She added that state agencies were also directed on how to operate state facilities Friday morning.
“As a result, we are now confident that we have taken every reasonable and appropriate measure to protect employees and control the spread of this disease in our facilities,” Kollner wrote.
Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3, said the state has not met the standards to ensure state employees are not exposed to the virus and should reinstate the pay increases.
He said certain state facilities have not implemented proper social distancing procedures, saying that inmates at prisons are still fed in large groups inside a dining hall.
“We disagree with the governor’s characterization that all controls are in place in all state facilities,” Moran said. “The state has not done everything that it can in order to mitigate those circumstances.”
Nicholas Pepersack, deputy chief of staff for state budget secretary David Brinkley, wrote in an email that the decision “is the natural evolution of the administration’s response to this public health emergency.”
“It was never the administration’s intent to provide unlimited premium pay for the duration of the pandemic to all state employees who reported to their offices to work,” Pepersack wrote.
“The premium pay incentive was meant to fairly compensate some of our hardest working employees in some of the most challenging positions within state government for reporting to work while the administration implemented every reasonable and appropriate measure at our disposal to protect our employees and control the spread of this disease in our facilities,” he continued.
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Angela Llewellyn, a nurse at the Thomas B. Finan Center, a psychiatric hospital in Allegany County, said she feels that staff are being exposed to the virus on a regular basis as a result of their occupation.
Llewellyn said the end of premium pay could be a burden for some state employees whose significant others are being placed on leave or laid off as they’re being forced to stay home.
“This is the worst possible time that he should be doing this,” Llewellyn said.
Moran said he could not say when he thought it’d be an appropriate time for the state to look at ending premium pay.
“Our members are doing a tough job under very difficult circumstances,” Moran said. “We don’t know when we’re going to hit the peak.”