After 25 years, she's truly alone Bottom drops out of state worker morale.

October 02, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff

After 25 years of working for the state, Yvonne Peters this week found herself unemployed -- with two children, no husband and no family support.

"I'm truly alone. I'm devastated," Peters said.

Peters, 48, has the distinction of losing two state jobs in a matter of months. She was laid off from her job as a social worker at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School this summer. And she had worked as a social worker at the Reception, Diagnostic & Classification Center for less than two months when she found out Monday she had been fired again.

Peters is among 1,766 state employees being let go as part of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's $450 million budget-cutting plan.

Nearly every state department took a hit.

Morale in state offices plummeted as the firings became known, employees said.

"Don't check your mailbox, don't answer the phone," one Department of General Services employee managed to joke.

In the past several months, state workers have seen their raises disappear, their medical premiums increased and, for most, their hours increased. Then, the firings came.

"Morale is even worse than it already was," said one employee at the West Preston Street government complex in Baltimore. "People are just sitting in their offices."

Across the state, supervisors appeared to hand out pink slips without considering an employee's experience or seniority. Stories were rampant about workers like Peters -- with more than two decades of service -- being fired.

"I just received an evaluation," said Peters, who lives in Woodlawn. "It was very good. I thought that if anything was secure, certainly the department of corrections would be. I thought it was the last place I would lose a job."

Actually, about 65 Division of Correction employees -- social workers, recreation officers and in-service training officers -- lost their jobs. Another 163 people in the prison's education program were also dropped.

Employees and unions protested that the state did not honor seniority rights when picking those to be fired.

"It's just a callous way that it's being done," said Bill Bolander, executive director of the state chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The state was not bound to honor any seniority rights because the employees were not technically laid off, according to state Secretary of Personnel Hilda E. Ford, who had to terminate 15 employees in her office. Rather, their jobs are being eliminated by the state Board of Public Works, which means personnel rules do not apply.

Employees also grumbled that the state had not tried other options, including furloughs, pay cuts or retirement incentives.

Raymond Ho, head of Maryland Public Television, said his offer to furlough his top management -- to "spread the pain" -- had been rejected by state budget officials. He ended up terminating 13 employees and seven contractual positions. State budget officials have said that such things as furloughs, while preferable to firings, will not save enough money to close the state's huge budget gap.

Barbara Wilson was among the 163 people who lost their jobs when the state simply abolished the prison system education program.

"I was devastated," Wilson said. "I knew some people would be cut. I had no idea the whole department would be cut."

Wilson, 35, has worked for the state for 15 years, the last 3 1/2 as a teacher's aide at the Maryland Correctional Training Center near Hagerstown. As a single mother, with a 21-month-old daughter, Wilson said she "may have to use the W-word -- welfare."

"There isn't anything out there for me," Wilson said. "I may be forced to go back to stay with my family in Owings Mills. I lose my health insurance. I may have to go on medical assistance. I need to be retrained. . . ."

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