Agreeing that "a bird in hand is worth a dozen in the bush," the City Union of Baltimore voted overwhelmingly last night to accept the city's offer of 15 additional paid leave days as compensation for a 6 percent pay raise taken away by the mayor.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in the spring halted pay raises for citemployees to help close a $54.1 million deficit and avert as many as 2,200 layoffs. The pay freeze -- which still allows workers to receive "step" increases -- saved the city about $38 million.
"They do not have $38 million it takes for us to get our raise," Lorretta Johnson, chief negotiator for CUB, told about 200 union members who had come to Harford Heights Elementary School for last night's vote. CUB has 5,300 members.
In remarks to the union members, Schmoke said that the city's dire fiscal condition left him little choice but to opt for a salary freeze. The salary freeze was imposed on all city employees, although city firefighters are in court battling for their raise which was won in binding arbitration.
Other unions, meanwhile, are still in negotiations with the city over ways to recoup some of their lost wages.
At last night's meeting, several people questioned the worth of a contract in which the second year's pay raise is taken away. Johnson said she believes that the city will honor its commitments in the future.
She added that the union is going to seek a one-year contract when negotiations on a new contract begin in January. CUB's current pact expires next June.
"Were any of you around when [then-Mayor William Donald] Schaefer froze the salaries [in 1979]?" Johnson asked. "And did you ever get it back?"
The crowd responded, "No."
"At least in this administration, you were able to continue receiving longevity," Johnson continued. "I wouldn't want to see 2,200 people laid off."
Supporters of mayoral candidate Clarence H. Du Burns were outside the meeting handing out literature blasting Schmoke for offering "shallow promises." Inside the meeting, many of the union leaders wore Schmoke campaign stickers.
The 15 days are in addition to the workers' regular leave days and vacation time and are being given between July and June 1993.
More than 90 percent of the union members at last night'meeting voted for the compromise. The sentiment was that the 15 additional leave days were better than nothing.
"I would rather have the 6 percent, but the 15 days takes it half way," said Phyllis Pollard, a school secretary who has worked for the city three years.
Jennifer Gibson said the leave time "is better than nothing at all."
Joyce Penny, a supervisor at the Back River Waste Water Treatment Plant, summed up the feelings of many of the voting union members when she said, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." She said that she feared that if the union rejected the leave-time offer, members could end up with nothing.
Johnson agreed -- and then some. "A bird in the hand is worth a dozen in the bush, and that's real," she said.