Members of a city workers union voted overwhelmingly last night to accept 15 additional paid vacation days in exchange for the 6 percent raise that they previously agreed to defer because of Baltimore's budget crunch.
The trade-off was seen by most city workers attending last night's meeting as the only way to get something for their money and avoid layoffs.
"A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush," Joyce Penny, a Public Works Department supervisor, said in summing up the feelings of many in the crowd of 200 at Harford Heights Elementary School.
In February, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke told city workers that he could not make good on the 6 percent annual pay raise that had been negotiated as part of the union's two-year contract with the city. He asked them to let the city withhold the raises, which were to have taken effect July 1, explaining that he would have to lay off 2,000 workers to generate the $54.1 million needed to pay out the raises.
The City Union of Baltimore -- which represents 5,300 clerical employees, police dispatchers, crossing guards and other office workers -- was the latest municipal labor organization to settle the outstanding pay raise issue. The firefighters union has taken the city to court to get the pay raise due its members, while the teachers union and one other municipal union have worked out arrangements with the city.
Under the city's proposal, the employees will defer the raises for the remainder of the contract in exchange for the paid leave. City employees would have until June 30, 1993, to use the days or convert them to sick leave.
"What we're trying to do is recoup that 6 percent," said Loretta Johnson, the union's chief negotiator.
But Jack Burkit, a Department of Transportation employee, wasn't convinced. He wanted know how the city could pledge to give workers like himself a raise and not deliver. But others in the audience were more concerned about what would happen if CUB didn't accept the city's offer.
Nancy White, an office assistant in the parking fines division, said she received a layoff notice earlier this year when city officials feared they would not be able to close a budget shortfall. When it came time to vote on the package, her mind was made up. "I can't live off a check once a month or unemployment with three kids," she said.
Union officials said that when they start negotiating in January for a new contract, to start in June, that they would try to get the 6 percent back or negotiate a one-year contract. "We need to sign a one-year package until they can afford to do better," Ms. Johnson said.