Gov. William Donald Schaefer today rescinded his executive order that lengthened the work week of thousands of state employees and announced that he would re-think the issue.
About 40,000 state workers today were to have begun working 40-hour weeks, rather than the 35 1/2 hours that they had been working for years. They were to receive no extra pay for the longer week that Schaefer ordered on Jan. 8, citing the need to increase productivity and avert layoffs in the face of mounting budget woes.
But Schaefer relented today after massive lobbying from the workers and their unions. He said he will issue a new order rescinding the old one and calling on newly hired state workers to work a 40-hour work week, but sparing most state workers the longer hours. In the meantime, state officials will study alternative ways to save personnel costs, he said.
"I haven't changed my mind on the 40-hour week. . . . We will try to do it. I don't think it's fair for two-thirds to do it and one-third not to do it," Schaefer said.
Currently, about 20,000 public employees, including prison guards, State Police and others, are scheduled for 40 hours a week.
Schaefer said he still hopes to have all state employees putting in 40-hour weeks starting in July.
The governor's decision to relent took the public employee unions by surprise. Maryland does not allow collective bargaining for state workers, but the unions were able to mobilize their members to call and write to lawmakers.
"This is just fantastic news. I am very grateful for the effort of state workers," said Bill Bolander, executive director of Council 92 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Cuts can be made to the budget without lengthening the work week or laying off workers, Bolander said.
Joseph Cook, director of field services for the Maryland Classified Employees Association, said, "We're ecstatic. . . . The new hours were giving a lot of people problems."
The action does not affect other policy changes announced by Schaefer that force state workers to pay a greater share of the cost of their health insurance and to go without pay raises this year.
State workers had been winning a surprising amount of support from legislators to reverse Schaefer's 40-hour work week. A bill reversing the 40-hour order had been introduced in the Senate and was being prepared in the House, where more than 20 lawmakers had agreed to sponsor the bill. Several members said they had received an unprecedented number of calls from state workers supporting the effort.