With a victory behind him, Gov. William Donald Schaefer says the state could be forced to lay off several thousand workers if the Court of Appeals does not uphold a ruling by an Anne Arundel County judge.
Circuit Court Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. ruled yesterday that the governor has the authority to order state employees to work 40 hours a week.
Asked in Annapolis afterward what he would do if the higher court overturns Thieme's ruling, Schaefer replied: "Then we'll immediately look to layoffs."
The governor said 3,000 to 4,000 employees could be out of work if he has to cut the current state budget to make up for purported savings lost if employees continue to work 35 1/2 hours a week.
Some 40,000 state employees today were forced to begin working the extra hours, without extra pay, after Thieme's ruling and a refusal by the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, to stay the judge's order.
However, six of the seven judges on the high court agreed yesterday to quickly hear an appeal of Thieme's ruling. That will happen Tuesday in Annapolis. Normally it takes months for a Court of Appeals hearing.
"We're disgusted," said Janet Anderson, of the Maryland Classified Employees Association. "But we're glad we'll have an opportunity to fight it all the way.
"There is some urgency to have the case decided as soon as possible."
Deputy Maryland Attorney General Judson P. Garrett agreed that it serves both sides to have the issue resolved as soon as possible. But he argued against the Court of Appeals staying the lower court ruling.
"They've had five months they've known about this," said Garrett, referring to employees who complained that the longer workweek would interfere with part-time jobs and disrupt child-care schedules.
Garrett said that if the high court rules in favor of the employees, the state would have to pay them for overtime worked.
Schaefer steadfastly has claimed the state will save significant amounts of money by having state workers put in 40-hour workweeks. And the General Assembly passed the current $11.5 billion state budget with cuts based in part on employees working longer hours without more pay.
Since then, budget experts have projected that the 1992 fiscal year budget may suffer at least $200 million in revenue shortages, throwing the budget out of balance and, in Schaefer's view, underscoring the importance of the 40-hour workweek.
Union leaders disagree.
"The fact is that the state has never demonstrated any cost savings," said AFSCME executive director William Bolander.
Bolander said union members will oppose layoffs and predicted a recovery in the state's recession-battered economy "will make that type of talk diminish."
Schaefer yesterday blamed union leaders for turning state workers against him over the 40-hour workweek issue. He said talk by some state employees of working slowly or not responding to duties during the extra time came only after union leaders "whipped them up."
But Bolander said state workers " are so fed up and they don't need any union telling them anything," he said. "We're hearing from them that they're not going to do any more than they have to."