School Unions Reject Neall's Call For Concessions

November 04, 1991|By Robert Lee | Robert Lee,Staff writer

The unions representing 5,800 school employees are calling County Executive Robert Neall's hand, voting not to accept voluntary wage concessions or furloughs.

Neall has ordered all 10,810 union and non-union employees to choose between undefined pay cuts, "four or five" furlough days or more than 322 layoffs by noon tomorrow, when pink slips are scheduled to go out. Neall says $6.6 million in wage reductions are necessary to make up for the $20.8 million cut in state aid announced last month.

Jim Pickens, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1693, called Neall's layoff threat "smoke and mirrors designed to create a panic." He called for Neall to look elsewhere for savings, instead of making orders about what should be cut from the budget.

"(Neall's) ultimate aims may be valid but the methods he's using are cheap, dishonest and unnecessarily strong-handed. He's been the Attila the Hun of diplomacy," Pickens said.

AFSCME 1693, which represents the school system's 1,250 custodial, maintenance, food service and transportation employees, voted unanimously Saturday morning not to grant concessions to "any government agency."

Both the 3,900-member Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County and the 650-member Secretary and Assistants Association of AnneArundel County voted overwhelmingly to oppose concessions or furloughs Wednesday evening but did not make their positions public until yesterday.

Neall said yesterday that he had not received word of thevotes, but he strongly reiterated his belief in the need for cuts out of public salaries, which make up 80 percent of the county's operating budget.

"I've had 60 people working round the clock since we knew about these cuts in October to find other areas in the budget we can cut. We can not get through the remainder of this fiscal year without some wage concessions," Neall said.

"I've got a $20.8 millionproblem and I'm asking the employees (whose wages) make up 80 percent of the budget to provide just one-third of the solution -- I'm not asking them to come up with $16 million, which would be 80 percent ofthe amount we have to cut. It's a matter of simple arithmetic," he said.

Representatives of several county employees unions and non-union employees agreed not to count or reveal the results of their votes until tomorrow. Tonight, the County Council will vote on a bill to reopen the county budget process to draft a reduced budget for the remainder of the fiscal year. The bill, which may be amended by Councilman Dave Boschert, D-Crownsville, would give Neall the power to lay off, furlough or cut the wages of all county employees. (See story, Page 2)

Under state law, county governments may not lay off classroom teachers.

Some union officials were holding out in the hope thatBoschert's amendment, giving the County Council power to restore money that Neall cuts, may take the sting out of some of the concessions.

"We didn't see the point in playing games with Mr. Neall," Pickens said, explaining his union's decision to publicize the vote that was taken by about 200 members.

Pointing to a Teachers Association audit that claims that $7 million could be cut from the school board's budget without touching salaries or the county's budget surplus, Pickens said there were other places to cut.

"Anne Arundel County isnot destitute. We have a surplus called the rainy day fund that the bond houses want set aside so we have some money when things go bad. Folks, it's raining. Mr. Neall, get off your duff and use it," Pickens said.

Jack White, head of the school system's budget office, hascalled the Teachers Association audit findings "ridiculous."

"I would submit that without touching salaries there's really no way to do what the county executive wants to do," White said.

Secretary and Assistants union president Dee Zepp noted that the Board of Education has already cut $13 million from its budget since spring. Zepp said it is unfair for public employees to shoulder the burden of the budget cuts.

Thomas Kelleher, AFSCME 1693's senior counselor and adviser, said the union also wants promises in writing that the concessions would be removed later if the county is in the black.

Neall said Kelleher is ascribing power to him that he does not possess.

"I have told them it is my intention to return to original pay scales ifthe county is in good shape next July (at the beginning of the 1993 fiscal year). That shows my good faith. I can't go further -- I can'tpredict the economy of the state and make promises based on what I can't control."

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