County Executive Robert R. Neall will have authority to order pay cuts for all unionized workers, except classroom teachers, if the governor approves a state deficit-reduction package tomorrow.
The Attorney General's office is expected to release a letter to Gov. William Donald Schaefer this morning outlining the new powers of local governments under an amendment to the budget-cutting bill passed by the General Assembly on Friday. The amendment, requested by Neall, lets local governments cut budgets of quasi-independent agencies, such as the school board, libraries and community colleges, until June 30, 1992, the end of the fiscal year.
The opinion may confirm what union employees have been fearing: that the amendment allows local governments to alter union contracts.
The key, said Bob Zarnoch, assistant attorney general and counsel to the General Assembly, is a clause stating that counties may make the cuts "notwithstanding any other provision of law or any contractual provision."
"I don't think there's much doubt" that the amendment gives counties the right to alter contracts, Zarnoch said. "It doesoverride collective bargaining agreements."
Neall was meeting with the local teachers union last night and could not be reached.
But he has said repeatedly that he does not believe the amendment giveshim power to break contracts, nor was that his intention when he proposed the measure. At last night's meeting, he was still assuring education leaders that he had no power to touch their union contracts, said Louise Hayman, Neall's press secretary.
"He didn't think he had it, and he didn't want it. It's not necessary," Hayman said.
What Neall says he wants is authority over budgets of schools and certain other agencies that he ordinarily cannot reduce once an annual budget has been struck. Specifically, he wants to be able to cut the school system's administrative and management budgets.
The amendment prohibits cutting money for instructional materials and equipment or "eliminating any position responsible for classroom instruction," namely teachers.
Other school employees, however, such as guidance counselors, teacher's aides and central office staff, could be affected.
Though he wants all county employees -- including school workers -- to take a pay cut, Neall has been saying all week that he cannot force the issue with unionized workers because state law bars him frombreaking union contracts.
Zarnoch said the Attorney General's office has been trying to determine whether the amendment to that state law is constitutional. It appears that it is, he said.
"Usually, in times of economic necessity, the courts have said that it's justified," Zarnoch said.
Leaders of the 4,000-member Teacher's Association of Anne Arundel County have said ever since the amendment was proposed that it endangered their contracts. They and other pro-educationleaders strongly oppose any attempt by local governments to share power -- even temporarily -- with the Board of Education. About 7,000 people marched on the State House on Tuesday to convey that message.
Though the Neall amendment was designed with the school board in mind, the power to amend collective bargaining agreements would extend to the six unions that have contracts with the county as well as to the four school unions, Assistant Attorney General Richard Israel said.
"This is a big bomb. We thought that was only with the Board of Education," said Jim Bestpitch, vice president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 582. The local represents about 900 blue-collar workers.
"We don't see how the legislature has jurisdiction over us, because our contract is with the county. Until we check into it, we don't think (Neall) has that authority because we have a legal, binding agreement."
The budget-cutting bill the governor is expected to sign tomorrow would strip another $7.9 million from Anne Arundel government, on top of an earlier $9.2 million cut. Neall expected the first round of reductions and made them without touching personnel.
But with personnel accounting for 80 percent of the county budget, Neall says there is no way to pare another $7.9 million without making either pay cuts or layoffs. And, since the Board of Education makes up 57 percent of the total budget, school officials cannot expect to be exempted, he says.
Neall has recommended that all county workers accept a cut of about 4 percent. If school workers are exempted, the cut would be closer to 9 percent. Teachers union leaders say they will not accept wage concessions.
The Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 70, which represents county police, voted Tuesday night against wage concessions. Other unions have yet to take a formal position.
County personnel officers said they haven't decided whether different cost-saving measures will be used for different unions, depending on the wishes of those groups. Exactlyhow many people would lose their jobs if no one accepts wage concessions is unclear, they said, though the figure appears to be between 400 and 600.
Personnel officers said they want the cost-cutting measures to go into effect by Dec. 1.