Liquor inspectors seek leave

sun reporter

A week after the Baltimore liquor board imposed a mandatory eight-hour workday for liquor inspectors, five members of the inspection staff have filed for leave from their jobs because of stress or illness.

Chief liquor inspector Samuel T. Daniels Jr. confirmed yesterday that several inspectors had requested leave, but he would not identify them. He said the requests started coming in several days after he imposed the new eight-hour workday policy, which went into effect Sept. 12.

The new policy was introduced in an effort to ensure that inspectors were putting in 40 hours a week. Several inspectors have second jobs, a situation that is not prohibited under their job description, but one that liquor board officials said could interfere with enforcement duties.

Daniels said the missing staff members - some of whom could be out for three months or more - would not affect the enforcement work of the state agency, which employs 18 full-time inspectors in all to oversee about 1,400 liquor establishments in the city.

"As far as I am concerned, it will have little to bear on the proper functioning of the agency," he said.

Liquor board Chairman Mark S. Fosler, who serves as spokesman for the three-member body, did not return telephone calls seeking comment yesterday.

Daniels said he couldn't comment on why the inspectors had requested leave because the information is private and personal. However, he said he believed that some of the inspectors were taking leave because they didn't want to work at night, a requirement under their job description.

"There are some who believe that there is a day shift and that you are exclusive to a day shift," he said. "But all inspectors can work, really, at any point."

Daniels said that since the new work policy went into effect, he has tried to assign inspectors to different shifts in an effort to be more equitable. In the past, inspectors were assigned to either a day or night shift, but Daniels has stated recently that he wants to do more inspections at night, when bars and clubs are active.

Attempts to reach the five inspectors who have filed or taken leave so far were unsuccessful yesterday. The husband of one of the inspectors said his wife could not speak because she feared that she would lose her job.

James Brooks, the husband of inspector Karen Brooks, who has been an employee of the liquor board since 1999, said his wife has been under tremendous stress since a new board took over in July. He said that the new work policy was the last straw for her and others.

"It's been miserable for her," James Brooks said. "She has been coming home really sad and depressed. She really enjoys the job, but dealing with her supervisor is what has been the problem."

James Brooks said that his wife went to the doctor Monday and was ordered to take 12 weeks off from work.

He said that it wasn't the night work - Karen Brooks has worked nights before - but Daniels who was causing problems. James Brooks said that some inspectors worry that the chief inspector has targeted them for removal and wants to replace them with younger hires.

Many inspectors at the liquor board are holdovers from the days when inspectors were appointed by state senators from the city and are age 60 or older. James Brooks said Daniels has been assigning inspectors to night shifts with little notice and then forcing them to work a day shift the next day. Brooks said his wife had no problem changing her schedule to work nights for several days in a row, but the quick turnaround was overly harsh.

Daniels denied trying to force anyone to resign.

"There have been arguments that this is to try to force someone's hand," he said. "But I don't see how requiring someone to do the job that is prescribed to them is forcing anyone's hand."

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