Court refuses to block state job cuts

October 31, 1992|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,Staff Writer

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge yesterday rejected an 11th-hour union request to postpone the termination of 275 state employees whose jobs were abolished during a recent round of budget cuts.

After hearing arguments from the union and the state in his chambers, Judge Thomas Ward denied a request by the Maryland Classified Employees Association to temporarily block the terminations.

Many of the 275 workers have been told not to show up for work Monday, union officials said.

The jobs were some of those cut last month by the Board of Public Works, led by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, as part of an effort to balance the budget by slashing state spending by $200 million. Eliminating the 275 jobs at issue in court will save the state $840,000 a month, lawyers said.

The union argued that the terminated employees should have been given rights that state law grants laid-off civil servants: 90 days notice, hiring preference for new jobs and the right to "bump," or take the jobs of other workers with less service.

MCEA officials said the affected workers include a Department of Environment engineer with 29 1/2 years of service and a Glen Burnie man who served with the Division of Juvenile Services for 31 years.

"You can't protect everyone in a tough economic time," said J. Edward Davis, lawyer for the union. "But let's follow the rules."

But Carmen M. Shepard, an assistant attorney general, said that the Board of Public Works had abolished specific jobs in various departments, not ordered layoffs within an agency or department. She said that the General Assembly had revised state personnel law last spring to make it clear that workers who held abolished positions were not entitled to layoff rights.

Judge Ward sympathized with the terminated workers. "I understand the grief and disappointment," he said. "It's tough to lose your job in this economy."

But, he added, "the problem is the state legislature has spoken. I do not believe that courts should be activists, which means that I don't think the courts should step in and overrule elected officials."

The issue is far from settled.

The MCEA has another court case pending that challenges both the current terminations and the elimination of more than 400 jobs by the Board of Public Works last year. The case is scheduled to get a hearing before the Court of Appeals Dec. 8.


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