39-hour workers help Balto. Co. meet its budget Part-time status saves on benefits

August 19, 1991|By Michael K. Burns

The witching hour comes at 11:30 p.m. Friday for Joseph Ellis, as he packs up his broom and cleaning materials in the Baltimore County Courthouse and heads for home.

A co-worker, meanwhile, stays for another hour's janitorial work.

That single hour each week is crucial to Mr. Ellis.

Because he works 39 hours a week, not 40, he can't be classified as a full-time employee. So he isn't entitled to full benefits, such as health insurance, nine paid holidays, personal leave, and full sick leave and vacation time.

"You do everything they do and you don't get paid for it because you're an hour short," said Mr. Ellis, who has worked a 39-hour week there for almost a year.

About 500 employees of Baltimore County are part-timers working just an hour employment" that applicants go through for full-time positions.

Over the years, the county has hired part-time employees for flexibility and expediency, he said, as well as to fill positions created by federal and state grants that are not permanent.

full-time week.

Baltimore County has about 1,350 part-time employees. But some are traditional part-timers,working as few as six hours a week. It's the 39-hour and 34-hour jobs that raise complaints from employees and unions.

"You are at their mercy," said Alvin Curry, who has worked more than two years as a 39-hour part-timer cleaning the County Courthouse. Mr. Curry said that he did not get an annual raise this year, while full-timers did. He has had no luck so far applying for full-time openings as they're posted.

Veteran part-timers complain they lack job security and the protection of a formal grievance and appeals procedure, which is denied them by county law.

"One time I had a disagreement with someone in my department and I was threatened with immediate dismissal," recalled one part-time professional, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I finally worked it out and kept my job, but it was scary."

Unions have tried without success to change the county law to allow them to represent part-time employees and establish a grievance procedure. A bill to give contract bargaining rights to all part-timers died in the County Council in 1986.

Lack of health insurance is another issue repeatedly raised by part-timers. The county agreed two years ago to cover part-timers who have five years service, but the county pays only half what it contributes for full-timers.

Creation of part-time county jobs has also hurt full-time promotions, Ms. Hammen charged. Some full-time county employees have refused to move to the next higher job because it is a one-hour short, part-time position and they would lose benefits and job security, she said.

Benefits and treatment of part-timers vary by department and by job.

Some part-time employees are provided with health insurance benefits as part of their agreement, while others must wait five years for coverage.

Some are allowed to work extra hours to make up for unpaid county holidays, while others have to use vacation days if they want to be paid.

Part-time workers are paid at the same hourly rate as full-timers, if their jobs titles are the same, Mr. McComas said. But some BTC part-timers say they have different titles (and lower pay) for doing essentially the same work.

Mr. Ellis, for example, is officially called a floor cleaner: sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, stripping and buffing floors, as well as emptying trash cans and general office cleaning.

A full-time employee who does the same work with him is called a custodian. Mr. Ellis is paid $5.90 an hour the first year, while the full-timer gets $8.56 an hour for the night shift in the first year.

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