Baltimore city employees union: Under ransomware attack, 'workforce has significantly slowed down'

Baltimore city employees union: Under ransomware attack, 'workforce has significantly slowed down'
A handwritten sign is posted on a door to the Baltimore Department of Public Works' water department office. Baltimore residents are unable to pay bills by cash or credit cash at the Abel Wolman Municipal Building because of a ransomware attack on the city's computer system. (Kenneth K. Lam / The Baltimore Sun)

The head of the City Union of Baltimore said Thursday that a ransomware attack on city computers this week has left many employees all but unable to do their jobs.

“The workforce has significantly slowed down because there’s no way for the members to do the work,” union President Antoinette Ryan-Johnson said. “Not all of them. A lot.”


There was no official update from the city Thursday on the ransomware attack, which appeared Tuesday morning. City officials have declined to say how widespread the problems were, saying to do so could expose information about potential vulnerabilities.

But Ryan-Johnson said her understanding is that “for the most part every department” has been affected.

“I don’t think anyone in the city has capability to use computers and pretty much that’s what we do all day,” she said.

The union represents some 3,100 employees of city agencies and the Baltimore public school system. Ryan-Johnson said the school system has not been affected. The city has more than 13,500 workers; other unions represent the police and fire departments.

Ransomware works by encrypting files on the victim’s computer. Hackers then demand payment to share the digital keys to unlock the files. The mayor’s office has said the city won’t pay.

Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young mentioned the computer problems Thursday during his speech at his ceremonial swearing-in, thanking federal and state agencies for helping to tackle the cyberattack.

City employees have been without access to email since Tuesday and credit card payment systems are not working, which Ryan-Johnson said is the most visible impact of the problem for the public.

Friday is payday for some city employees. The Enoch Pratt Free Library reduced some of its public computer hours at the Central Library so that city agencies could use its computer labs to access the payroll system, library spokeswoman Meghan McCorkell said in an email Thursday.

Ryan-Johnson has been told paychecks will go out, but she was not reassured.

“I’m praying,” she said.

Like the public, Ryan-Johnson said, employees have been given no information about when the computer problems might be resolved.

“We have not been given a definite time frame,” she said. “It’s frustrating.”

On Wednesday, Young floated the idea of having employees who couldn’t get their work done go out and clean city streets. The union pushed back Thursday on that idea.

“All of our members, including those who keep our city clean in the Department of Public Works and in Recreation and Parks, are trained professionals,” the union said in a statement. “We respect their work too much to just throw other citizens on the streets and expect them to be able to do their job.”


Baltimore Sun reporter Lillian Reed contributed to this article.