ANNAPOLIS -- Nearly 40,000 state employees will start a 40-hour workweek today, the result of yesterday's ruling by an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge repudiating the arguments of two unions representing the workers.
Within three hours of Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr.'s decision, the unions were in an appeals court asking another judge to prevent the new work schedule from taking effect.
Although the Maryland Court of Appeals rejected that request, the state's highest court did agree to hear arguments on Tuesday.
Yesterday's ruling by Judge Thieme granted Gov. William Donald Schaefer's executive order to abolish the 35 1/2 -hour workweek currently enjoyed by many state employees.
Judge Thieme ruled that the governor had the power to extend the workweek and that the order did not violate any implied contractual agreement with state employees, nor did it deny the employees' right to due process.
State workers opposed to the 40-hour workweek have derisively called the additional hours "Schaefer time."
Governor Schaefer issued the order in January, rescinded it under union pressure, reinstituted it, then postponed its effective date.
According to state estimates, the order extends the workweek for about two-thirds of the state's employees, saves about $62 million and avoids the need for an additional 1,809 employees.
Since signing the order, Mr. Schaefer has maintained that it helps the state's financially strapped budget without having to resort to layoffs. The governor reiterated that theme during a news conference yesterday.
"If the court overrules [the decision], then we will immediately look to layoffs," he said, adding that this point should be made clear to state employees. "I don't see a lot of people on the union side coming in and saying let's lay off 3,000 to 4,000 workers."
William Bolander, executive director of Council 92 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, denounced yesterday's Circuit Court ruling.
"This actually sets a very, very dangerous precedent because, to our knowledge, it's the first time that a state employee workweek has been increased without any compensation," he said. "What [the governor] has done has successfully demoralized and alienated 40,000 state employees."
Mr. Bolander also said the new schedule will place undue hardships on many state workers, especially those who use day care. He said some workers may have to pay up to $200 a month in additional day-care expenses. He also said he was distressed by how the Schaefer administration has characterized state employees.
"They've done a pretty good job in convincing the public that these are people who just don't want to work 40 hours a week," he said. "But if you put it in terms that you work 40 hours a week and now you're going to work 44 and a half with no extra pay, then people begin to understand."
Janet Anderson, director of communications for the Maryland Classified Employees Association, said the association will use all possible legal means to overturn the governor's executive order. She also said the association does not advocate work stoppages or other actions as a means of protesting the governor's order.
"But," she said, "employees are demoralized and upset to the point where they will take action into their own hands. It's just that bad."