Howard County teachers may not get much sympathy from some fellow county employees tomorrow when they protest County Executive Charles I. Ecker's plan to eliminate their negotiated 6 percent salary increase.
Possibly two dozen county workers may protest against them.
"They're being terribly unfair," said Terry Zellmer, a custodian for the county's department of general services, who says county employees plan to meet the teachers' pickets in front of the county's office building with a demonstration of their own.
"I'm hoping to not get into a position where we have to be confrontational. I don't want it to be that kind of thing. I'm just hoping they will back off."
Zellmer believes the county's 2,100 teachers are being insensitive by pressing for raises after 40 county employees have been laid off and the remaining 1,685 are being forced to forgo their raises to help balance the budget.
She plans to issue that message tomorrow morning during the teachers' planned demonstration outside the county office building, where the County Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget for schools.
Teachers say they deserve raises because they will enter the second year of a three-year contract that calls for annual 6 percent wage increases. They held a three-day "work to contract" job action to protest Ecker's decision to delete $8.9 million from the $270.3 million that he is proposing.
Howard County Education Association officials have criticized Ecker for breaking a negotiated deal with the Board of Education. They are asking the council to restore the money when it adopts the final version of the budget May 23.
James Swab, the teachers' union president, said he is convinced that most county employees support the teachers' bid to receive their negotiated raises. He noted that leaders of the county's four unions have put together a coalition to form a united front against reductions in wages and benefits.
"The public employees of this county are working closer today than ever before," said Swab, who brushed aside a suggestion that the raises have pit county employees against teachers. "From the time [the coalition] started meeting, we started on the principle that you honor negotiated contracts."
But Zellmer, who has worked for the county for three years, agrees with Ecker's contention that teachers should share in the burden of cutting costs to balance the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. She said she fears that the county will have to lay off even more employees if the council restores money for teacher raises.