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Maryland to bump salaries of frontline workers in coronavirus crisis; rates still below double pay received earlier

Healthcare workers and patients at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Howard County, shown Monday, have tested positive for the coronavirus. Certain state employees who are required to work through the pandemic, including those at psychiatric hospitals such as Perkins, will now be paid $3.13 per hour extra.
Healthcare workers and patients at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Howard County, shown Monday, have tested positive for the coronavirus. Certain state employees who are required to work through the pandemic, including those at psychiatric hospitals such as Perkins, will now be paid $3.13 per hour extra. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Maryland’s state government is offering a pay bump to certain state employees who must work through the coronavirus pandemic.

The offer of $3.13 per hour in extra pay is significantly less than the double-time rates the state paid some workers before discontinuing that policy more than a week ago.

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“While this differential is not equivalent to the premium pay that the state provided to employees at the onset of this crisis before universal screening and other safety protocols were put in place, it is designed to be sustainable for the state given the unknown duration of this health crisis,” Cynthia A. Kollner, the state’s director of personnel, wrote Wednesday in a letter to union leaders.

The $3.13 hourly bump in pay amounts to about $250 extra for each two-week pay period, starting Wednesday.

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“We estimate that close to 15,000 employees will be eligible to receive this differential,” Kollner wrote.

Eligible employees include those “working in 24/7 operations” in the Department of Health, Department of Juvenile Services and Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, as well as state police officers and firefighters, Koller wrote.

Human services workers will be paid extra when doing field work, but not when telecommuting from home.

State employees required to work in “designated quarantined areas” will receive another $2 extra per hour in pay.

The estimated cost to the state is $3.7 million per pay period. For now, the extra pay will be in effect through May 5.

Some state workers and advocates have raised concerns about the conditions employees are exposed to, particularly in the state’s prisons and psychiatric hospitals, where inmates and patients have the COVID-19 disease.

State officials have said they’ve taken appropriate measures to protect workers and limit the spread of the virus in state facilities.

Union officials, especially from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3, have said the measures are insufficient.

The extra pay is appreciated, but employees need safe working conditions, said Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3, the largest union for state employees.

“It’s a step forward, considering they took a giant leap back,” Moran said of the pay increase. “We’re talking about people that are doing their best in a very dangerous and scary situation. We need to make sure that people are compensated for the risks they are taking.”

Moran said availability of protective equipment like masks and gloves is extremely limited in places like prisons and hospitals where social distancing is impossible.

During a news conference earlier this week, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan acknowledged that there is not enough personal protective equipment for people who need it, including those who work at state facilities.

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“We do not have enough gear. No one in the country has enough gear. That’s the No. 1 problem in America right now that everyone’s talking about,” he said.

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