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County appeals back-pay decision; 67 employees are due $600,000 for added hours, judge ruled


Anne Arundel County is appealing a court decision that could cost it $600,000 in back pay for 67 clerical and blue-collar employees whose bosses in 1996 asked them to work longer hours without an increase in pay.

Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner gave newly elected County Executive Janet S. Owens her first problem when he ruled Jan. 4 that the county owed money to workers in two employee unions, Locals 582 and 2563 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The judge said it was wrong for former Executive John G. Gary to increase their workweek from 35 to 40 hours without paying the employees for the five additional hours.

The county appealed the decision Friday to the Court of Special Appeals, said Patricia Logan, senior assistant county attorney.

Francis J. Collins, an attorney representing the union members, said the appeal is pointless because Lerner has ruled that the county violated the workers' contractual rights by making them work without pay.

"It was just another way to squeeze more money out of the average working Joe and Jane," said Collins. "The county forced hourly employees to increase their hours without giving them pay for it and thereby actually gave them a 14 percent reduction in their hourly earning."

Logan said the contract employees agreed to and which took effect July 1, 1996, did not include the pay raise that Collins claims his clients deserved and allowed management to extend the employees' working hours.

"We think the judge's decision in the case was wrong on a number of fronts, and we are appealing the decision based on serious legal issues," Logan said.

Lerner's ruling was based on a measure the County Council adopted in October 1996 that allowed the county to increase employees' hours without increasing employee pay proportionally.

Lerner said it was unconstitutional for the county to retroactively apply a change in county law three months after the union contracts had taken effect.

His decision contradicted a finding by the county Personnel Board, which denied a grievance by the employees.

The ruling was the second recent setback for the county on employee pay.

In December, the Supreme Court refused to hear the county's appeal of its loss in a lower court concerning overtime pay for paramedics.

That case could cost the county an estimated $4 million for about a decade of back pay.

Pub Date: 1/26/99

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