Union takes Schaefer's workweek order to court

May 02, 1991|By Michael K. Burns

Thwarted by the legislature and the executive, state employees filed suit in court yesterday to block Gov. William Donald Schaefer's order extending their workweek to 40 hours beginning July 1.

The Maryland Classified Employees Association filed the suit in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court on behalf of 40,000 state workers who now work a 35 1/2 -hour week.

The MCEA, which represents about 22,000 state employees, charged that the executive order violated the state's constitution because the legislature has the authority to set the workweek and because the regulatory procedure for amending the workweek was not followed.

Joel Dan Lehman, the union president, said the governor's order "breaks the implied contract for thousands of loyal state employees" who "have given up pay raises over the years because of these [shorter] hours."

The suit asks the court to void the governor's order or to require that employees be paid for any hours they work beyond 35 1/2 hours weekly.

"We've never seen such a reaction to an issue from our members, thousands of calls from around the state," said Lance R. Cornine, the union's executive director.

Some would want to work the extra hours for extra pay, he said, while others do not want their working hours changed, primarily because of child care and other family commitments.

Judson P. Garrett Jr., the deputy attorney general, rejected the lawsuit's claims yesterday.

"These things [workweek changes] have been done by the executive branch for the last 50 years," he said. The state employment commissioner established the five-day week for state workers in 1945, and the Board of Public Works has similarly decided workweek schedules, he noted.

"The legislature could do it by statute, but they have not," he said.

Governor Schaefer signed an order Jan. 8 expanding the workweek to 40 hours for all employees without added pay, deferred it for study, and on Feb. 27 reissued the order.

The General Assembly then failed to pass legislation that would have retained the traditional work schedules for all state employees.The House passed a resolution that calls for study of the effects of the expanded week.

MCEA officials challenged the governor's claim that the longer week will increase productivity and save money. The administration's predictions of savings have shrunk from $183 million in January to only $14 million last month, Mr. Lehman said, "and I don't think they will even save that much."

"We came up with spending alternatives of $501.4 million to avoid layoffs, when the governor asked us, so no one can say we were not trying to help," he added.

The extended hours will hit hardest at lower-paid state workers and at women, who make up 70 percent of those now working TC 35 1/2 -hour week, Mr. Lehman noted.

Two female state employees, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging that the executive order unfairly discriminates against women, because so many of them are affected.

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