Baltimore's Board of Estimates approved yesterday transferring to civil service positions contractual employees who control communicable diseases -- but took steps to try to minimize the impact of the change on the workers.
The board ordered the city Health Department to review the workers' job classifications within 90 days to make sure their municipal salaries are fair.
It also told the Health Department to look into picking up the costs of life insurance and prescription drug coverage until the workers could qualify for the benefits.
And the board pledged that the employees -- who by law must be placed on six months' probation -- would not be fired during that time except for a serious cause.
Board members apologized for approving the transfers before issues of salaries and benefits were resolved for several health -- workers who attended yesterday's meeting to voice their concerns. But the board members said that they had no choice because the contract with Union Memorial Hospital to operate the programs to contain AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis had expired Monday, and the workers would be out of jobs and the programs would lapse unless they acted.
"We can't say, 'Put this on hold.' We've got to act today," said City Council President Mary Pat Clarke. She said it was "wrong" that the workers were put in the position of having to accept or reject their classifications at the last minute without having been adequately represented.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said the board was "not a real happy bunch" because it had thought the workers' concerns had been taken care.
"Please don't take our action today as the end of the process. We're just trying to keep the programs together right now," the mayor said.
The board acted after three workers told the board about the hardships the transfers would cause them and some of their co-workers.
Mary Roby, who helps track HIV/AIDS cases, said she was considering resigning after six years because her $2,961 salary reduction under the transfer proposal was "insulting and unacceptable." At least eight other workers were receiving salary cuts of up to $3,700, she said.
"Experienced, long-term personnel do not deserve to be treated so cavalierly," she said.
Another worker, Kevin Clemons, who works in AIDS education, said he was HIV-positive and could ill afford a loss of medical benefits or accumulated sick leave, let alone a $1,700 cut in pay.
"It's disillusioning for me to know all the time and energy I've put in isn't worth anything," he said.
Dr. Peter Beilenson, the city health commissioner, said he pushed for the change in the workers' status to bring the salaries of the 100 workers covered by the Union Memorial contract in line with those of 850 other Health Department employees.
Also, by ending the contract, the city would save $550,000 annually, which would be used to improve clinical services, he said.