Cutbacks will slash income 13 percent, state workers say

January 20, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith

Saved from the layoff ax threatened at Christmas, state workers like Lynette Dozier wonder now if they can survive the reprieve.

Since the day Gov. William Donald Schaefer decided to exploit other budget-cutting approaches before taking livelihoods, Ms. Dozier has endured a series of harsh cutbacks.

"People say I should be thankful to have a job at all," Ms. Dozier said. "And God knows I am, but . . ."

The budget-balancing burden heaped on state workers is severe and largely unrecognized, she said.

Already lagging 15 percent to 20 percent behind the pay of federal government workers and those in the private sector, state employees are now asked to accept:

* The addition of 4.5 hours to the workweek at no extra pay -- the equivalent of an 11 percent cut in pay, union leaders say.

* Cancellation of so-called annual step raises -- costing some workers as much as $500 per year.

* No cost-of-living increase this year. These increases have averaged 4 percent in recent years.

* Elimination of overtime pay -- sufficient in some cases to enable a worker to avoid getting a second job.

* The loss of a $5 payment for medical insurance and consideration of a further reduction in the state's contribution to health insurance payments.

The $5-health-care nick may seem trifling, but Nellie Thomas, a sterilization technician, observes that every setback hurts when your pay is $16,000 a year. On that sum, she provides nursing care for her 88-year-old mother.

"Everything is going up but my salary," she said.

Overall, state workers calculate, these measures will cost them as much as 13.5 percent of their weekly income -- and more. A 40-hour week means that vacation time and compensatory time earned for extra work are accumulated more slowly.

Not immediately apparent in the dollar-and-cents loss, Ms. Dozier adds, is an immediate disruption of life created by the addition of an hour to each workday. The need to alter fragile day-care and car-pooling arrangements creates two of the most serious problems, she says.

Some day-care centers encourage punctuality by charging $5 -- per minute -- for children who are left overtime. If a parent must arrange in advance for an extra hour of care per day, the additional cost can be as high as $7 per day, $35 per week.

Ideally, state workers would lengthen their work time to accommodate the extra hour. But many of them, working mothers in particular, have nothing resembling an ideal schedule already.

Ms. Dozier drops her 3-year-old daughter, Tia, at a day-care center just after 7 a.m. so that she can get to work at 7:30 a.m.. At the end of the day, she goes to work as a telephone solicitor with Citicorp. The second job runs from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

So, where does the extra hour fit?

She could report to work earlier in the morning, but the day-care center doesn't open until 7 a.m.

"I can't leave her on the street corner for a half-hour," said the 35-year-old secretary, who has been with the state for 17 1/2 years.

If she pushes the hours of her day job into the evening, Ms. Dozier fears, she will threaten her second job.

"There's a conflict one way or the other," she said.

Ms. Dozier talked about her life with a group of co-workers last week in the gloomy cafeteria at the state office complex at 301 W. Preston St. One of the group wore a "Maryland With Pride" lapel pin -- and all of them said they were proud of their work.

"If I don't do my job right, if chemicals are left behind," said Ms. Thomas, the lab worker, "some technician will get a bad result."

Tim Stein, who handles computer security for sensitive health department records, said the government risked the loss of good workers when it took so many damaging actions against wages and benefits.

State government is not a place to work, these workers said, if you're looking for good pay, a strong self-image and admiration from your neighbors.

They went to work with the state for the pension, the fringe benefits and job security -- all of which seem less attractive now.

Ms. Dozier knows there is little sympathy for people who work in what the public regards as the land of the perpetual coffee break.

There are the jokes, of course, always the state employee jokes such as this: When the snows come and the radio announcers advise that "non-essential government employees" need not report, someone says, "What government employee doesn't fit that description?"

Even less sympathy exists now in the midst of recession and war and with layoffs of hundreds of workers.

Still, Ms. Dozier said, she and other state workers sense an assumption that they are responsible for the current economic situation.

It is depressing, said Jo Ann McCray, 32, a data device operator. She needs a new job to pay for day care. "You can't afford to stand still," she said.

Most of the workers shared Eileen Thompson's view of Governor Schaefer and his decision so far to keep a healthy 41 percent pay raise.

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