Chanting "Save our jobs -- no layoffs" and "No pay raise for Schaefer," more than 400 angry state workers staged a lunchtime protest today outside the state office building on West Preston Street.
Officials of the Maryland Classified Employees Association, which sponsored the demonstration, said they were responding to Gov. William Donald Schaefer's announcement yesterday that the state could begin sending layoff notices to as many as 1,800 state workers Monday.
"Will it stop at 1,800? No one knows that for sure," Joe Cook, director of field services for MCEA, shouted into a bullhorn.
Janet Anderson, MCEA director of communications, said the protest was fueled partly by false rumors that the state had begun sending out pink slips. The union office has been flooded with hysterical calls about that rumor, she said.
"What people are upset about is it's not a layoff," Anderson added. "They are going to be terminated. They are worried. We have a lot of employees who are heads of households."
MCEA officials said state workers are planning another protest outside the governor's mansion in Annapolis on Tuesday.
Although Schaefer has accepted a handful of cost-saving suggestions made by legislative leaders, he said yesterday that there is no practical alternative to layoffs to help erase the state's $243 million budget deficit.
"If there were alternatives that would work without disrupting our forward progress, without disrupting our work force, I would have suggested it," he said.
Schaefer said he would like to give two weeks' notice to those who are laid off. The layoffs would probably take effect Jan. 1, he said. The layoffs are likely to be permanent, unless there is a dramatic turnaround in state revenues next year, state officials said.
Schaefer sounded willing to listen to final recommendations from legislators, expected by tomorrow, but he rejected suggestions that the state avoid layoffs by furloughing employees one day a month. "It's all very fine in theory, but you can't stop operating the hospitals," Schaefer said.
Furloughs would be hard to administer, said deputy state budget secretary Dennis H. Parkinson. For instance, furloughed employees would not be covered under their health insurance on the days they are on leave, Parkinson said.
MCEA executive director Lance R. Cornine said state employees might be willing to go to a four-day workweek to save everybody's job.
The governor said he won't propose reduced workweeks or other ideas pushed by union leaders to avoid layoffs, including early retirement incentives or salary cuts to reduce the number of layoffs required.
Instead, Schaefer said, he is considering forcing all state employees to work 40-hour weeks to make up some of the productivity lost through layoffs. About two-thirds of the state's 76,000 employees now work 35.5 hours a week, officials said. The governor refused to answer questions about the idea.
Schaefer also declined to endorse suggestions that he give up the $35,000 pay raise he is scheduled to receive Jan. 1, boosting his annual salary to $120,000.
Schaefer said some legislative suggestions will reduce layoffs, but "not significantly." It is unclear how many employees will lose their jobs.
Parkinson said the administration already has ordered various state agencies to prepare to cut their budgets by certain percentages. Managers will be responsible for deciding how the cuts fall, he said.
Parkinson said he expected 30,000 contractual employees -- as opposed to permanent state workers -- to be the most vulnerable. Most such employees work part time.
Schaefer has ruled out layoffs in public safety, juvenile services and human resources. Transportation also is not affected because it is funded separately. That leaves health, natural resources, general services, environment, housing and economic development to absorb many of the layoffs. Schaefer also is expected to lay off some of his staff.
An opinion issued last week by Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said the governor is not bound to lay off employees in reverse order of seniority -- the normal method for layoffs. The opinion said the laws and regulations covering layoffs do not apply when the governor eliminates funding for a specific position.
Curran's opinion, requested by the Schaefer administration, also declared that the state has no legal obligation to give notice to employees whose jobs are being eliminated.
The economic downturn reduced the state's revenues drastically, leaving a deficit this year of more than $400 million.