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Governor's order violates pact, unions argue


ANNAPOLIS -- State-employee unions argued yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court that the governor's order establishing a standard 40-hour work week violates the separation of powers and the state's contract with its employees.

The governor's order goes into effect July 10, extending by 48 minutes the work day of nearly 40,000 state employees who have traditionally worked a 35 1/2 -hour week.

Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. promised to decide by then whether to grant the union request to block the order. Lawyers for the state and the unions said they would immediately appeal an adverse decision.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer extended the work week for nearly two-thirds of the state work force in order to shrink a deficit budget. By some state calculations, the change would save about $62 million and avoid the need for an additional 1,809 employees.

"This is a bold manipulation of the process" that is "calculated to prevent the payment of overtime compensation" to state employees, argued J. Edward Davis, an attorney for the Maryland Classified Employees Association.

Only the General Assembly has authority to set work hours of state employees, he contended. Even if the governor has that authority, he added, Mr. Schaefer did not follow the prescribed administrative process.

Employees now working a 35 1/2 -hour week would contribute 30 days extra work to the state without compensation, Mr. Davis told the court. The state can require employees to work 40 hours now but must pay them for the overtime hours, he noted.

"This is unprecedented in the history of employer-employee relations in Maryland," added William H. Engelman, an attorney for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Judson P. Garrett Jr., the deputy attorney general, said the legislature had fully considered the issue and rejected three bills that would have preserved the existing work week, in addition to adopting the governor's budget that included the expanded work week.

The administration, not the legislature, has typically acted to change employment conditions, he said.

State employees are not governed by a labor contract but by the law, which is open to change, Mr. Garrett added. The unions' lawyers had argued that the shorter work week was part of a contract offered to those who accepted state employment.

A third of the state employees, mostly those in law enforcement, prisons and hospitals, already work a 40-hour week.

The executive order extending the work week of all state employees to 40 hours goes into effect the first pay period in July, which is next Wednesday for most employees. Because their pay period is different, several thousand University of Maryland employees would not begin the 40-hour week until July 24.

Mr. Schaefer first announced the extended work week in January, withdrew it after employee protests, then reissued the order later.

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