Twenty-seven blue-collar county workers were saved from layoffs yesterday when County Executive Robert R. Neall accepted their unions' belated request for wage concessions.
"I was glad Mr. Neall gave us the extra time," said Janet Childs, a public works employee who fought to have her union's vote recognized. "He didn't have to do that."
Members of Local 582 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees voted, 304-180, Monday night to accept wage concessions, but union leaders delayed reporting the vote to Neall because 30 union members protested the vote.
Neall gave all county unions until noon Tuesday to choose between a 3 percent wage cut, five furlough days or layoffs.
The union officially notified Neall of the vote at 9:55 a.m. yesterday, nearly two days late. Neall said he signed the agreement a minute later. "I think I've shown myself to be flexible," he said. "It has never been my desire to lay anyone off."
But Local 582 President Marvin Redding accused Neall of using "scare tactics" to force the union's hand before it could work out problems with the vote. Neall had threatened to lay off union members when he didn't receive the vote by the deadline.
"That was the whole purpose of it, Mr. Neall getting everyone scared and worried about losing their jobs, and to some extent, it worked," Redding said. "We fulfilled our responsibility to the union by investigating the complaintsand getting (the results) to them by Thursday."
The union's bylaws require another vote in the event of a challenge from members, unless the protesters withdraw their objections. Redding said he didn't know if the protesters would pursue the matter.
Redding and other union leaders were criticized by some members when the vote wasn't submitted to Neall by the deadline. Some accused Redding of wanting layoffs to avoid concessions, a charge he denies. He said union leaders wanted Neall to consider alternatives before resorting to pay cuts.
"If he had given us time early on, we could have come up with placesto trim," Redding said.
Administration officials have said they can't eliminate a $20.8 million budget deficit without touching salaries, which make up 80 percent of the $616.6 million budget.
"I would not have asked for wage concessions if I was not convinced beyond ashadow of a doubt that they were needed," Neall said.
Only one county union -- the Fraternal Order of Anne Arundel Detention Center Officers -- did not accept wage concessions. Three of its 98 members will be notified today that they will be laid off next month.
Neall said he is willing to let the union take pay cuts. Asked how long he will give the union, Neall said, "If there is a change of heart, I wouldn't rule out the day before (layoffs) take effect."
Neall will present his revised budget to the County Council next week. Yesterday, he signed into law a bill that will reopen the budget process and apparently gives the council authority to add to departmental spending-- power the council does not have under the County Charter.
County Attorney Jud Garrett's six-page opinion on the bill said it was legal, but only so long as the council doesn't violate the charter by adding to Neall's budget.
The council approved its expanded powers over the objections of Neall and county attorneys. But at the bill signing yesterday, any sign of the rancor that marked Monday night's council meeting was gone.
Council Chairwoman Virginia Clagett, D-West River, and members Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, and David Boschert, D-Crownsville, downplayed their differences with Neall. Boschert had sponsored the amendment adding to the council's powers.
A new statelaw gives Neall and the council broad powers to reopen the budget process, cut union contracts and delete line items from the school budget.
But Garrett said the law doesn't allow the council or Neall toviolate the budget process spelled out in the charter. He warned that if the council exceeds the charter's restraints, the county could face a legal challenge.