County Executive Robert R. Neall panicked an already frightened workforce Monday when he spelled out procedures for laying off county employees.
A bill introduced to the County Council on Monday night spoiled the good news that Neall is restoring wage concessions for 4,000 employees a month early, thanks to a smaller-than-expected cut in state aid for the current fiscal year. Beginning June 5, workers' paychecks again will reflect their full salaries.
The Board of Education, which ordered its 7,000 employees to takefour furlough days, also is expected to restore the wage concessions.
The restoration means workers will lose 2.4 percent of their payover six months instead of 3 percent over seven months.
Though Neall had promised last winter to return money to employees if the state cuts were less than expected, the restoration came as a surprise, said Carol Buttrum, president of Local 2563 of the American Federationof State, County and Municipal Employees, representing 370 clerical and technical workers.
"I had no idea. Employees can use a little bit of good news," she said.
The bad news for workers is the layoff bill, which specifies the order in which union and non-union employees would be laid off; outlines a recall system; and establishes an "Employee Outplacement Program" to help laid-off workers find new jobs.
"I don't like the sound of that at all," Buttrum said.
Four of the county's six labor unions have reached an impasse in negotiations.
Contract talks between the county, Buttrum's union and AFSCME Local 582, representing 900 blue-collar workers, are deadlocked over the issue of job security. Neall wants power to privatize work now performed by county workers, a move he believes could save a substantial amount of money.
"People are terrified," Buttrum said.
The AFSCME locals currently are protected by contract language prohibiting the county from hiring private firms if, as a result, county workers are laid off.
Under the layoff bill, Neall could pinpoint departments to be reduced in size. The least-senior worker in a specific job classification in a single office would lose his job.
Though some union leaders believe their seniority entitles them to bump employeesin other classifications or departments, their contracts do not include this provision, said Michael Milanowski, the county's director oflabor relations. A secretary in the Department of Inspections and Permits could not displace a junior secretary in the Department of Recreation and Parks.
The county charter gives each department head authority over hiring and firing, Milanowski said. Otherwise, the government would lose control over the quality of its work force, he said.
"Two workers may be in the same classification, but they may be doing vastly different work," he said.
Neall said he wants to reduce the size of the county work force by 10 percent over the next threeyears. Hoping to entice about 100 of 339 eligible employees into early retirement, he introduced a temporary retirement incentive plan tothe council Monday.
The executive said he won't study specific privatization plans until he has the power to use them. He wants the layoff bill anyway to clarify the county's policy on firing, but the bill won't help him privatize unless the county succeeds in changing the privatization language in the AFSCME contracts.
"These are like golf clubs," Neall said. "You can't play on a golf course with just one club."
Hearings on the layoff and early-retirement bills are scheduled for a hearing and possible vote on May 4.
Also in May, thecouncil will hold impasse hearings between the county and at least two labor unions. The council's rulings are final.
Local 2563 has waived its right to have an arbitrator mediate its dispute and will take its case straight to the council, Buttrum said. So will the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 70, representing 435 police officers, Milanowski said.
Lodge 70 reached an impasse with the county over the issue of retirement. Police officers, who now may retire at age 50 with 20 years' experience, want the right to retire after 20 years of service, regardless of age.
An arbitrator will be called in later this month to mediate the county's contract dispute with Local 582, Milanowski said. After receiving the arbitrator's non-binding recommendations, either side may request a hearing before the council.
An arbitrator is expected to hear arguments today from the county and Anne Arundel County Professional Firefighters, Local 1563. Talks with the 549 firefighters broke down over money issues.
Two other unions,representing 98 detention center workers and 24 sheriff's deputies, are still talking with the county, Milanowski said.