State employees to take hours fight to Md. legislature


State employee unions pledged yesterday to take their war against the new 40-hour workweek to the General Assembly, and perhaps the federal courts, just a few hours after they lost their battle in Maryland's highest court.

The state Court of Appeals agreed yesterday morning with the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge who had upheld the governor's executive order extending the workweek for 38,000 state workers from 35 1/2 hours to 40 hours. The new schedule took effect July 10.

The seven-member court heard oral arguments Tuesday afternoon and, at the request of lawyers for both sides, issued a quick decision. A written opinion is to follow in the next few days.

"The employees are devastated," said J. Edward Davis, a lawyer for the Maryland Classified Employees Association. "My phone is ringing off the hook with employees who are upset with what the court has done and what the governor's done."

The unions had argued that the governor did not have the authority to expand the workweek. Even if he did, they said, the state was obligated to pay state workers for the extra hours.

Judson P. Garrett Jr., a deputy attorney general who argued for the state, told the Court of Appeals Tuesday that the longer workweek was a key part of the state government's efforts to trim spending to head off record budget deficits.

He said the move enabled the state to avoid filling more than 1,800 vacant jobs and to save $62 million, without cutting services.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Gov. William Donald Schaefer said: "I'm happy that we won," adding that workers were "whipped up by the unions."

"We were confident all along that the governor had the authority to impose the longer workweek," said Page Boinest, a press aide to the governor. "It was a budget-driven decision. We think it was necessary given the state's budget situation. And we feel fortunate that we haven't had to take any more drastic cost-saving moves to date."

Mike McCusker of MCEA said association President Joel Dan Lehman had instructed lawyers "to investigate the feasibility of taking the case to the Supreme Court. And we'll be in Annapolis in January to try to get a bill passed that will return the state employee workweek to what it was on Jan. 1, 1991."

William H. Bolander, executive director of Council 92 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said his group would push bills to raise the salaries of those working the extra 4 1/2 hours a week and to provide more day care for parents. AFSCME also is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court, he said.

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