Judge to rule on 40-hour week Schaefer's authority to extend workweek is debated in court.

July 03, 1991|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Evening Sun Staff

An Anne Arundel County judge is expected to decide by next week whether Gov. William Donald Schaefer has the authority to order state employees to work 40 hours a week.

No matter which way Circuit Court Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. rules on a pair of lawsuits filed by two state employee unions opposing the governor's work order, lawyers on both sides of the issue say they are prepared to appeal.

"I think this is going to have to be decided by the Court of Appeals," said state Deputy Attorney General Judson P. Garrett Jr. moments after he and union lawyers debated the suits in court yesterday before Judge Thieme. The Court of Appeals is Maryland's highest court.

In an executive order issued in February, Schaefer mandated the longer workweek as a cost-saving move. The edict would require about half the state work force to put in 40-hour workweeks.

About half of the state's 80,000 contractual and non-contractual employees work 35 1/2 hours a week under a 1942 personnel policy. About 20,000 public employees, including prison guards, State Police and others, now work 40-hour weeks.

Most employees now work 7.1 hours a day, with a 54-minute unpaid lunch break, for a total of eight hours. Under the new plan, they would work eight hours daily plus a 30-minute lunch break, meaning it would be 8 1/2 hours from start to finish of their workday.

Based on the governor's executive order, most state employees would begin their lengthened workweek July 10. Contract employees were scheduled to begin their 40-hour workweeks today.

Lawyers representing the Maryland Classified Employees Association and Council 92 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees argued yesterday that Schaefer exceeded his constitutional authority when he issued his executive order.

"What the governor did . . . is absolutely unprecedented in the history of employer-employee relations in the state of Maryland," said AFSCME lawyer William H. Engleman.

He said requiring state employees to work more hours without additional pay is unfair and will cause financial hardships on many of their families.

Engleman characterized state workers' morale as "terrible" and said the governor's executive order was "unlawful."

"He should not be permitted to get away with it," Engleman added.

Union lawyers also argued that many current employees took jobs with the state believing they would not be required to work more than 35 1/2 hours a week unless they were paid overtime. Forcing them to work longer, they said, would be a violation of an unwritten employment contact.

But lawyers representing the state said no such contract -- written or unwritten -- exists.

"The argument that somehow there is a right to a 35 1/2 -hour workweek is puzzling," said Garrett, noting that many state employees traditionally have worked 40 hours a week.

Schaefer's unusual executive order, state lawyers said, was prompted by a "virtually unprecedented fiscal crisis" and was chosen as a budget-saving alternative to laying off or furloughing workers.

Garrett said Schaefer did not act alone by ordering the extended workweek. By passing a state budget partly balanced on bTC projected savings from longer work hours, he said, the General Assembly agreed to the governor's plan.

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