Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker told four union leaders yesterday that the 750 firefighters, police officers, correctional officers and other workers they represent will be furloughed five days, but not laid off.
"I really don't think we can lay off those individuals, for reasons of public safety and the type of work they do," Mr. Ecker said after the closed-door meeting.
He said he was still considering layoffs of other employees in jobs providing duplicate services and in midlevel management posts "in an effort to streamline government" and ease a $7.5 million deficit. He said that he would announce any layoffs Tuesday and that still other workers could be furloughed.
Police officers will take the furloughs hard, said Dale L. Hill, president of the Howard County Police Officers Association, which represents 229 officers through the rank of corporal. "All our officers lost merit pay, and a quarter of our membership lost seniority pay this fiscal year already," he said.
"I support furloughs if there are no layoffs," said Al White, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local representing 300 blue-collar workers in the public works and parks departments. The union's objective has been "to keep people on the payroll," he said.
"We understand [Mr. Ecker] is in a bind, and we have worked out an agreement that is equitable to our membership because no blue-collar worker is laid off at least for the foreseeable future," he said.
According to Mr. White, the blue-collar workers will be furloughed Dec. 23-25, Jan. 1 and Jan. 20.
Mr. White, also president of AFSCME Council 67, which oversees 44 union locals in the state, including the one representing correctional officers at the jail, said he believed the executive's furlough decision "worked out fairly good" there. Donald Arms, president of the local representing the correctional officers, was unavailable for comment.
Sean Kelly, president of the Howard County Professional Fire Fighters Association representing 144 firefighters, said the members will meet soon to discuss the furloughs.
"I am not real happy with the executive's decision," he said. "Our furloughs will take money from the fire tax reserve fund, so it does not affect the general fund, where the deficit is, but the county executive believes it is fair to have furloughs across the board."