In what may be a significant victory for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, workers in the 5,300-member City Union of Baltimore voted overwhelmingly last night to allow their leaders to negotiate a deferral of a 6 percent raise the union won in bargaining only a year ago.
Six hundred union members, who packed the auditorium of the Harford Heights Elementary School for an emergency meeting last night, said in a voice vote that they were convinced the
mayor would make good on his threat of massive layoffs unless they and other unions agreed to wage concessions to help close a $54.1 million budget shortfall projected for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
"If I lose my job, I lose my house, my truck, everything," said Bruce P. Bowman, a pollution control analyst at the Back River Treatment Plant. "They can't pay you what they don't have."
"If it comes down to giving up the raise or keeping my job, I'd rather keep my job," said Pamela D. Hart, a $17,000-per-year security guard with two years of seniority, three children and a mortgage.
Cheryl Boykins Glenn, president of the union, said that although her union's leadership was willing to consider a deferral of the scheduled raise, the union would flatly reject any proposal that would waive the raise altogether.
Nonetheless, the union action is significant because the City Union of Baltimore is the first of the city's unions to agree at least to consider wage concessions to ease the city's fiscal plight.
Other unions have been more militant in opposing pressure from the mayor to grant concessions.
Yesterday, Jeffrey A. DeLisle, president of the Baltimore Fire Fighters Union Local 734, said that his 1,450 members voted overwhelmingly last week to reject any wage concessions.
Mr. DeLisle, whose members are scheduled to receive a 6 percent raise July 1, said the department was already more than 100 firefighters short, was incurring large overtime costs and could ill afford to lay off firefighters, anyway.
"They can't lay off in the Fire Department and still run with any efficiency at all," he said.
A high official with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 6,000 city employees and is scheduled to receive a pay raise of 6 percent, said last week that the leadership of the union would resist a giveback.
Ms. Glenn said leaders in her union would meet with city fiscal experts for details on the city's financial condition today before deciding on a package of concessions to bring with them to a meeting with the mayor tomorrow.
On Feb. 16, the mayor told labor leaders that allowing the city to keep the money allotted for pay increases scheduled to kick in this year would save $38 million.
Failing that, Mr. Schmoke asked the unions by Friday to present alternative ways of trimming labor costs, which take the biggest share of the city's current $1.8 billion operating budget, according to spokesman Clinton R. Coleman. These alternatives might include wage increase deferrals, employee furloughs or early retirements, administration officials have said.
Without cost-cutting concessions, the city would have to lay off more than 2,000 employees to fill the legal requirement for a balanced budget, city officials have said.
Not all of the city unions are facing the prospect of giving up already-negotiated wage increases. For example, the Baltimore Teachers Union and the Fraternal Order of Police are negotiating new wage packages with the city.
Some members of the City Union of Baltimore, which represents some 500 job classifications, including secretaries, clerks, security guards, supervisors and other lower and middle-level city employees, said concerns for their job security and that of their fellow employees persuaded them to go along with the idea of a wage deferral.
The decision elicited grumbling among other members of the union.
Donald E. Carnegie, a recreation leader in the Department of Recreation and Parks, said that he was concerned that the vote would embolden city officials in a quest for further wage &L; concessions from the union.
"When you do that, they continue to take from you," said Mr. Carnegie, a 14-year city employee whose wife also draws a city paycheck. "I've seen all of these shenanigans before."