Finding scant support from union leaders for a proposal to implement a freeze in salaries for Baltimore's 29,000 municipal employees, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has taken his appeal directly to the workers.
Yesterday, hundreds of Baltimore city employees received letters from Mayor Schmoke suggesting that without a freeze on salary increases, he might have to lay off thousands of workers.
"During my meeting last week with union officials I explained that to avoid a major lay-off of City employees, it may become necessary to impose a city-wide freeze on all wages and salaries for all City employees," the mayor wrote. "The freeze would remain in place until July 1992."
Union leaders, who had been asked by the mayor last week to come up with ways the city could trim an estimated $54.1 million deficit, were angered by Mr. Schmoke's letter to their members.
Cheryl Boykins Glenn, head of the City Union of Baltimore, said the letter created a panic among many of her union's 5,300 members. She said her office was besieged with telephone calls from members asking if the 6 percent wage increase they had won from the city was going to be withdrawn.
"I think the letter was sent in poor taste," she said. "I'm very, very concerned that the mayor sent this letter directly to our people when we have tried so hard to understand his position and work with him to come up with solutions."
Last week, the mayor said that more than 2,000 employees could be laid off by July to help the city eliminate the budget deficit. In a move that could make the budget even tighter, the City Council is likely to repeal a 14-month-old container tax, which the mayor hoped would add $7 million in city revenues.
Salary raises for most municipal employees would cost about $38 million. And in his letter to union members, the mayor urged them to do without those negotiated raises to avert layoffs.
"These are tough times for anyone to be in the position of searching forwork," the mayor wrote in his letter dated Feb. 19. "The country is in the midst of a very deep recession and I for one worry about the availability of jobs in the private sector, should it become necessary to release large numbers of employees."
However, the mayor also explained that without additional state aid, layoffs might still be necessary -- in addition to a freeze in salaries.
City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said council members had largely stayed out of the current discussions between the mayor and city unions.