Bitter state employees grudgingly prepare to work 'Schaefer time'

July 07, 1991|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- State employees derisively call it "Schaefer time," the extra 4 1/2 hours a week two-thirds of them will have to begin working without extra pay starting Wednesday.

Demoralized by the absence of a pay raise this year, a cut in the state's health insurance subsidy and now this, many of them say they may "put in" the extra hours Gov. William Donald Schaefer has ordered, but they may not work them.

"It'll be like a work stoppage -- 10 minutes to answer the phone. It takes longer when you're on 'Schaefer time,' " said Connie Powell, an angry State Highway Administration employee. The extra hours, she says, will make it harder for her to care for her disabled husband and will cost her extra money she does not have to keep her 3-year-old daughter in day care.

For months now, state employees and their union representatives have been howling about the governor's executive order imposing a 40-hour workweek on some 40,000 employees who work 35 1/2 hours a week.

Those with children say it will mess up their day-care arrangements and add to the cost. Others say it could cut into their second jobs, interfere with their family life, shorten their lunch hour.

Most say it is just unfair to ask people to work more while not paying them more.

"I think it is slavery," said Mildred Womble, a cashier at the Motor Vehicle Administration headquarters in Glen Burnie. "Even the slave masters paid their workers for the hours they worked."

The state employees and their union representatives met with the governor but only succeeded in getting the starting date for the longer hours postponed.

They tried to push through legislation to block the executive order but received more sympathetic ears than votes in the General Assembly.

They staged boisterous rallies outside the State House in Annapolis.

They filed a discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

And finally, on July 2, they went to court. The Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge who heard the case promised to rule before the longer hours are due to go into effect Wednesday, but both sides vowed to appeal if they lose.

Standardizing the workweek for state employees was proposed by Governor Schaefer in January as a money-saving measure at a time when the state faced a multimillion-dollar budget deficit. Unions persuaded him to rescind the order temporarily, but he reissued it Feb. 27, effective July 1. The July 10 starting date was chosen because it is the beginning of a pay period.

Mr. Schaefer has steadfastly defended the decision, saying it is better for state employees to work a few extra hours a week than to lose their jobs through otherwise certain layoffs.

Calls and letters to the governor's office show that "the public sentiment outside of state government is overwhelmingly in favor of it," said Page Boinest, a press aide to Mr. Schaefer. "They work 40 hours and can't understand why state employees don't."

State workers, she added, enjoy "great benefits, job security, and in a recession, it is a great job to have."

But William Bolander, executive director of Council 92 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the public is not supportive of them because the Schaefer administration has done such "a good selling job."

"If you tell people: 'You are working 40 hours, and the boss tells you as of July 10 you're going to be working 44 1/2 hours and you're not going to be paid more for it,' then people will begin to understand what the issue is," he said.

Estimates of how much the extra working hours will actually save the state have varied widely, from as high as $183 million to as low as $14 million.

At a legislative hearing last week on the new 40-hour regulations, a Department of Personnel spokesman declined to put any figure on the projected savings.

nTC "I still have trouble understanding what the alleged benefit is," admitted Delegate Kenneth H. Masters, D-Baltimore County, co-chairman of the joint legislative committee that heard testimony on the new regulations. "My concern is that it doesn't appear to be any direct, demonstrable dollar savings. At least the department is not inclined to point to a precise fiscal benefit.

"On the other hand, it has become terribly demoralizing for people in state service," he said. "So, when it is all said and done, it is difficult to understand what benefit is derived, certainly in the short run."

Julia A. Northam, who interviews food stamp and medical assistance applicants for the Department of Social Services in Somerset County, said, "People at a lot of agencies take work home, or stay after work [now]. I don't see how productivity is going to increase."

A number of employees said they went to work for the state because of the relatively shorter workweek.

Mary Queen of Glen Burnie, for example, said she took a $10,000 pay cut to transfer last September from a job as a correctional officer at the House of Correction in Jessup to become a cashier at the Glen Burnie MVA office.

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