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State workers brace for unwanted veto


ANNAPOLIS -- State employees say they're getting the short end of the stick. Again.

First Gov. William Donald Schaefer pledged to veto an early retirement bill that would fatten pensions for many senior employees. Now -- for the second year in a row -- he's expected to veto another bill that would limit the secretary of personnel's power over appeals of suspensions, demotions and other grievances.

Employee unions are also livid about proposed regulations that would shorten from 90 days to 30 days the notification period for state workers who are about to be laid off.

These are the same employees who have gone two consecutive years without salary increases, who have been forced to take unpaid furloughs and pay more for their health insurance, and who were ordered to work 40-hour weeks for the same pay they previously got for 35 1/2 hours.

If he vetoes the early retirement bill, the governor is required by budget language to save at least $17.5 million elsewhere by abolishing 600 or more state jobs. To legislators who believe state government is too big, that translates into "downsizing." To employees, it means the threat of layoffs.

"What will end up happening is, instead of people retiring, they'll just eliminate positions. People will be out there with nothing but unemployment [insurance]," said William Hudson Jr., president of Council 92 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "They won't be able to retire. There will be no recall rights, no bumping rights. They'll just be out there."

"Once again," said Lance R. Cornine, executive director of the Maryland Classified Employees Association, "dedicated state employees will pay for Maryland's budget deficit."

But Frederick W. Puddester, the governor's deputy budget secretary, said yesterday that none of the 600 to 620 jobs he will recommend to the governor for elimination are currently filled. All, he said, are vacant.

In addition, Catherine K. Austin, the assistant secretary of personnel, defended the proposed new regulations shortening the notification requirement for layoffs. She said they are actually intended to assure the recall or bumping rights of employees who might be laid off, but who would be denied such rights if theirjobs were simply terminated immediately for lack of money. In those cases, employees have no recall or bumping privileges.

"We're not always in a position to have 90 days to give people notice when we don't have the money to pay them," she said. "When you don't have the luxury to [wait] 90 days, and you have to take immediate action, then you have no employee rights at all," she said. "From our viewpoint, it is a lot more humane to do it this way."

The new regulations are expected to be published in the Maryland Register June 26 and, if there are no delays, should go into effect by mid-August, Ms. Austin said.

Meanwhile, it appears that Mr. Schaefer will again veto legislation sought by employee unions to prevent the secretary of personnel from reviewing -- and possibly overturning -- decisions on grievances made by the state's Office of Administrative Hearings. The governor vetoed similar legislation last year.

"While we're not announcing a final decision, we view the legislation as seriously flawed from a policy perspective and, we are advised by the attorney general, from a legal perspective," said David S. Iannucci, the governor's chief legislative officer.

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