Semantics in Schaefer plan makes difference 'Terminated' means guarantees voided

October 03, 1991|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- When Gov. William Donald Schaefer chose to fire 1,766 state employees as part of his $450 million deficit-reduction plan, the workers were "terminated," not "laid off."

The difference in the terms translates into greater savings to the state but means shorter notification to affected workers and loss of other rights.

The Schaefer administration based its budget-cutting actions on a Sept. 5 opinion from Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. to John W. Hardwicke, the state's chief administrative law judge.

In that opinion, Mr. Curran said that if funds are cut -- whether by the governor's decision to omit an appropriation from the annual budget, by the General Assembly's decision to strike out or reduce a budgeted appropriation, or by the Board of Public Works' decision to designate particular positions for elimination -- "then those positions are lost by operation of law once any remaining appropriation is exhausted."

"The employees who hold the positions are not entitled to the rights afforded under the [state's] layoff statute," Mr. Curran wrote.

Hilda E. Ford, the state's secretary of personnel, said Mr. Schaefer could have made the terminations effective the day after they were announced, but said, "No responsible government dumps people on the street with no notice."

As it is, the workers whose jobs have been terminated were given 30 days' notice, until Nov. 1. Had the state layoff statute been in effect, the notification period would have been a minimum of 90 days.

That means the state is able to save the cost of two months of salaries and fringe benefits it otherwise would have had to pay, said Deputy Budget Secretary Frederick W. Puddester, although he said he could not immediately put a precise figure on how many millions of dollars that would be.

Workers who are terminated also lose seniority or "bumping" rights guaranteed by the layoff statute. That explains why longtime veterans of the state police force lost their jobs along with less senior colleagues when the Schaefer administration abolished two state police barracks and fired the 83 officers who work there.

The layoff statute would have come into play only if the funds cut were "not linked to identifiable positions," Mr. Curran said.

When the Board of Public Works voted to approve the reductions yesterday, the agenda item included a long list of every six-digit "PIN" number (personal identification number) that had been used to identify the state employee slots being abolished.

The only benefits available to terminated employees is cash in lieu of any unused leave to which they were entitled and the right to continue their state health insurance coverage, but only if they assume the full cost. Ms. Ford said the amount would vary depending on family size and health policy options chosen.

Those terminated who have been with the state for five years or more and are therefore vested in their state pension program would not lose any retirement rights, said Marvin Bond, a spokesman for state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein.

Lance R. Cornine, executive director of the Maryland Classified Employees Association, the largest union of state employees, said the union does not like Mr. Curran's opinion but has no plans at this time to challenge it in court.

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