Afraid of losing their jobs, some county workers are asking County Executive Robert R. Neall to bypass union leaders and ask workers directly whether they will accept pay cuts to avoid layoffs.
Workers at employee meetings called by Neall this week asked the county executive to poll workers directly because they feared union leaders wouldn't represent them fairly, Neall spokeswoman Louise Hayman said.
Neall, who is trying to cover a $7.9 million cut in state aid, has told the county's six unions they must take 3.6 percent wage cuts or face layoffs. They have two weeks to decide before pink slips go out Nov. 5. Neall will deliver a formal proposal to the unions either late today or early tomorrow.
Hayman said Neall probably won't bypass union leadership because he doesn't want to break the unions.
"I think he's going to decide in favor of making employees go through the individual bargaining units," Hayman said. "I'm not sure he wantsto get into union politics. This is a no-win situation."
But union leaders say Neall has already played union politics by appealing directly to workers to give up a portion of their pay in exchange for jobs.
Calling Neall a "villain" who's trying to "ruin union credibility," Marvin Redding, president of Local 582 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said workers are panicking out of fear of Neall, not of union leaders.
"They're panicking, sure. Wouldn't you panic if some guy was threatening you with a pink slip?" Redding said. "It's the first time in the history of the union that any county executive has gone out and talked to members without going through the head of the union."
Union leaders say they will go along with whatever their membership decides. They say they would object to Neall taking a poll of individual members.
"The leadership will work in the best interests of the membership. It really wouldn't be up to us at all," said Marty Womble, a vice president of Local 582. "It will be voted on by the membership, and we'll go along with that because we are part of the membership."
Leaders of one union said yesterday they will reconsider an earlier decision to opposewage cuts based on the information they get from Neall later today.
"People are saying we should have an emergency meeting to reconsider our vote, but there's nothing to discuss until we get specifics. When we get a formal proposal, we will have another vote," said Carol Buttrum, president of AFSCME Local 2563.
The 950 blue-collar workers of Local 582, the largest union, plan to vote after Nov. 4, when the County Council is expected to approve legislation reopening the budget process. But Neall plans to hand out pink slips Nov. 5.
"He wants a response before the County Council takes a vote. That sounds crazy to me," Redding said.
Redding and Buttrum say their phones have been ringing off the hook with calls from union members worried about their jobs. "People are in an utter panic, and it's understandable," Buttrum said.
Redding blasted Neall for targeting salaries when Anne Arundel is in better shape than many surrounding counties. "This guy wants to go to the State House on the backs of employees," Redding said, referring to widespread speculation that Neall will run for governor in 1994.
He criticized Neall's decision to take a $5,000 pay cut over the next seven months when other people earn much less.
"We have people in this Local who start at $13,000," Redding said.
"I just had one girl call and say she can't afford it. She has two children and is living on less than $20,000. How can you possiblyexpect that woman to take a cut?"