SEEKING MORE work out of public employees is one way that Anne Arundel County Executive John Gary hopes to hold down payroll costs, which account for about three-quarters of county government's budget. Requiring all employees to work a 40-hour week has been a key element in his effort, but the new rule has created friction among some.
Last summer, unions representing part of the county workforce negotiated contracts in which the employees' base pay assumed continuation of a 35-hour week. At the time, the county code said that any employees whose work week was extended to 40 hours would be entitled to a 14 percent raise to cover the additional hours. However, when the County Council passed legislation last fall mandating a 40-hour week for all employees, the language calling for the raise was eliminated. As a result, workers covered by the new contracts had longer work weeks but no commensurate increase in salary.
Upset that their employer was apparently reneging on a negotiated contract, nearly 100 workers filed a grievance with the county personnel board. Represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the blue collar and clerical workers are prepared to go to some lengths to contest the county's action. If the board rejects their claims, the workers vow to take the case to court. If these employees prevail, the county will owe them and about 100 colleagues a total of about $800,000 in additional pay. Thousands of dollars will also be consumed in a costly, and possibly protracted, court battle.
This dispute was avoidable. The legislation should have been written to apply only to future contracts. Although waiting a year would have meant no additional productivity from workers, Mr. Gary could have achieved his goal with less animosity.
Under current circumstances, these workers have suffered a cut in pay. Their job performance is likely to suffer. No one -- employees, county managers or taxpayers -- wins in these circumstances. By giving these workers months of notice that they would have to work longer, or by honoring a negotiated pay increase, this bitter pill might have gone down more smoothly.
Pub Date: 12/27/96