Md. workers bitter about new hours


On the first day of their 40-hour work schedule, many state workers were taking their lunch breaks as usual yesterday, but the conversations had taken on an unusually bitter tone.

"It certainly doesn't increase the work ethic and morale around here. There may be a few people around here who think this is a wonderful thing. I'm not one of them," said Dave Harding, a computer clerk at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The gubernatorial order that lengthened the workweek from 35 1/2 hours without increased compensation was upheld in Anne Arundel Circuit Court on Tuesday, so about 40,000 state employees officially started to log in "Schaefer Time" yesterday.

Depending on the department, workers were either coming into work a half-hour early, leaving work late or cutting their lunch hour in half, to 30 minutes.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer increased the workweek to help the state cope with its budget crisis, but many employees interviewed in Baltimore yesterday agreed that the move had created low morale and high tension in their departments.

"There's no motivation. Everybody's dropping into a lower gear, even the efficient ones," said Scott Snyder, who works in the retirement systems department.

Mr. Snyder said he had to gobble his lunch to get back to work within 30 minutes. He and several other workers hastily eating in the Preston Street complex cafeteria said they were angry they no longer had time to go to nearby restaurants for lunch.

Worried about long lunch lines, many employees had brought lunch in portable coolers or brown paper bags or had opted to eat snack foods.

But Mark Devine, the cafeteria's manager, said he'd added extra workers and another cash register in anticipation of increased business.

"Everything went real well. We were really smooth. We're going to do whatever it takes to make [customers] happy," Mr. Devine said. The cafeteria will open a half-hour earlier than usual, at 7 a.m., so early-bird employees can get breakfast or coffee.

Many employees said they were not upset about the extra time spent working -- several said they frequently came in early and took short lunch breaks. Mostly, they said, they resent not being paid for their services.

"It's not the work. I just think it's very unfair," said Geraldine White, who came into work at 7 a.m. -- a half-hour earlier than her usual time.

Carole Holmes, who was wearing "clothing that fit her mood" -- a black outfit with pictures of tarantulas on it -- said that while she is angry, she is resigned to following the new rules.

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