Helper of Md. workers soon to lose his job State employees feel effect of budget cuts

April 06, 1991|By Michael K. Burns

For the past 18 years, Frank McQuay has been helping Maryland workers to collect their due wages and enforcing state labor laws. Now he's the one who needs help.

On Tuesday, he and a half-dozen other employees of the Employment Standards Service got a letter telling them their jobs had been eliminated effective July 1 because of budget cuts.

They got a booklet telling how to apply for unemployment benefits and possible job retraining services. The letter from the Department of Licensing and Regulation also told them they had no right to "bump" or transfer to another state job, no matter how many years of state service or experience they had.

With less than a year to go before retirement from his job as assistant chief of the Employment Standards Service, that means Mr. McQuay will be on the street at age 61.

"They're saying layoffs are a possibility. I'm telling you that they're already here," said the 25-year veteran of state service. "They're not beating around the bush."

More than 100 state employees have already been told their jobs are being eliminated for budget reasons.

Another 600 state jobs are being eliminated by the announced closing, restructuring or downsizing of other facilities. They include 391 positions at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, 141 jobs at the Victor Cullen Center and 70 positions at Rosewood Center.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer warned this week that the new $11.6 billion state budget could lead to possible layoffs of as many as 1,700 employees, despite assertions by legislators that layoffs were not mandated by the fiscal 1992 budget they passed Monday.

Selection of which jobs and employees are to be cut is a task for department heads, not for the governor's office, said Paul E. Schurick, Mr. Schaefer's press secretary.

"Cabinet secretaries are charged to manage their departments within the budget," he said, and will decide whether to lay off employees or to terminate them.

That distinction is crucial for the individual employee. For the first time, many employees such as Mr. McQuay are being terminated, not laid off.

They cannot exercise seniority to transfer to another state job, and they lose benefit reinstatement rights if they regain state employment in the future.

"This is illegal, and it's going to wind up in court," predicted Joseph Cook, director of field services for the Maryland Classified Employees Association, the largest union of state workers.

The union has filed grievances challenging the terminations and will argue its case before a state hearing examiner April 23, he said.

"In all the years I've been working with [state employees], this is the first time I've seen it done this way, without using the legal layoff procedures," he said.

"We're looking into every legal angle we can to fight it," added William Bolander of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, another state worker union.

According to the unions, the following terminations have been issued this year:

* 37 meat inspectors in the Agriculture Department.

* Seven non-instructional staff at St. Mary's College.

* 15 employees of the Baltimore Regional Planning Council.

* 20 employees of the Licensing and Regulation Department.

Another 35 mapmakers in the Department of Assessments and Taxation were told that they will be laid off. Layoff notices were given workers at Cullen and Rosewood centers.

The Hickey reform school positions were terminated by the legislature effective Sept. 1 for non-budget reasons and may be restored after the state comes up with a new management plan; if the school is turned over to private management, however, the state jobs would disappear.

On the horizon is a round of deep job cuts at the University of Maryland, where the administration is addressing a large budget shortfall, Mr. Bolander said.

"We can't prevent legal layoffs, but we hope to minimize them," he said.

Mr. Cook of MCEA pointed out that employees who are to be terminated still have the right to resign, which would preserve their seniority status for reinstatement for two years.

But voluntarily resigning would jeopardize their eligibility for unemployment benefits, he noted. So the union is asking state officials to grant jobless benefits to state workers who resign for budget reasons, he said.

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