Unions to lobby for law to keep 35 1/2 -hour week

January 17, 1991|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Evening Sun Staff

Unions representing state workers plan to seek legislation to overturn Gov. William Donald Schaefer's executive order increasing to 40 hours the work week of about 40,000 public employees.

The order, issued last week and effective next month, increases the current 35 1/2 -hour work week for many state workers. Schaefer said the longer work week was needed to balance the state budget without laying off workers -- something he had threatened to do late last year in response to the unexpected revenue shortfall.

Both the major unions representing the workers -- the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the rival Maryland Classified Employees Association -- say they are lining up sponsors for legislation that would negate his order.

The bills would mandate a 35 1/2 hour week for all employees who were scheduled to work those hours before the ordered change, say union leaders.

"This isn't like a few employees being laid off. This is something that affects 60,000 state employees," said William H. Bolander, executive director of AFSCME's Council 92, which has about 10,000 members.

He acknowledged that the bill would require some deft lobbying to win public and legislative support necessary to override a likely veto by the governor.

Because state law prohibits collective bargaining by state workers, the unions do not have traditional contracts that specify working conditions. They operate more as associations, advocating the views of their members.

The MCEA, which initially supported the longer work week as a way to avert layoffs, now wants the governor to consider other options, said Joseph H. Cook, director of field operations for the group.

"I think the state employee work force is very upset," Cook said. Extending the work week without increasing pay amounts to a pay cut of 11 to 12 percent he said.

His organization has about 20,000 members and intends to suggest that the governor consider alternative ways of saving money, such as furloughing workers for one day a month.

Both organizations said they have sought legal advice and have not found much hope for a lawsuit. But Bolander said he is still exploring the idea of suing on the grounds that employees were hired under an "implied contract" that specified a shorter work week.

Several lawmakers contacted yesterday said they had heard complaints from state workers, but did not see much support for shortening the work week.

"That's going to shoot themselves in the foot. It puts more stress on the possibility of layoffs," said D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington County, the House majority leader.

Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-Balto. Co., the House minority leader, said the employees she had talked to considered the longer work week preferable to layoffs. "These are tough times and for state employees to think they are immune is unreasonable."

Schaefer also has said state workers would receive no pay raises -- either scheduled or cost-of-living -- for state workers this year and that they would be forced to pay a greater portion of the cost of their health care.

The work-week order affects about two-thirds of the state's work force, leaving unaffected contract employees and some college and university payrolls. Also, employees in some state classifications already work 40-hour weeks.

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