Angry about layoffs, workers boo Neall

April 15, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

Workers booed, taunted and lambasted County Executive Robert R. Neall yesterday afternoon as he told a packed hall of angry utilities and public works employees that some will lose their jobs.

The executive stood quietly during verbal attacks on his integrity, motives and salary at the second of four scheduled employee forums. Mr. Neall announced that he will cut 440 positions throughout county government, including 120 vacant slots.

Two more forums are scheduled for today.

"This is not an exercise to ruin people's lives," Mr. Neall said, citing "new economic realities" that have forced him to trim government spending and rely more on outside contractors. "We shouldn't lose sight of the fact of what our mission is, to serve the citizens of the county. Government is 75 percent personnel. We can't sustain a work force of this size into the future."

The layoffs were part of a government reorganization plan to save $5 million that the County Council approved in early March.

The executive said his hand was forced by the permanent reduction of state aid to local government, decreases in county income because of the recession, growing demands on education and the voter-approved property tax cap that limits county income.

But workers, many in blue-collar county jobs, interrupted Mr. Neall's presentation with numerous outbursts, complaining, for one thing, that they felt betrayed after having given up pay raises.

"Last year you said, "Take a wage cut and you won't have anything to worry about,' " yelled a traffic maintenance worker who wouldn't give his name for fear of getting fired. "Is this the end of it? We're taxpayers too."

Workers gathered at the Glen Burnie Improvement Association hall cheered and applauded when Nancy Silwick admonished the executive for using contractors instead of county workers.

"Don't lay us off because you want Joe Schmo company who supported you in the election to do the job," said Ms. Silwick, vice president of Local 2563 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 385 clerical and technical workers.

At an earlier session in Annapolis, Finance Clerk Lori Eglington complained that the executive parceled money to hospitals and to top administration officials for cars at workers' expense.

"I wonder what county employee or county office made you so upset at one time that you feel like you have to do us all in," she said, also to a round of applause.

An unspecified number of workers will be notified tomorrow that their positions have been cut or that they may be bumped from their job by someone with more seniority.

The total number of layoffs won't be immediately known, because senior workers will have a chance to fill new jobs or those left open by other displaced workers.

Mr. Neall said only that the number who will end up jobless will be significantly smaller than the number getting letters tomorrow .

That was little comfort, though, to employees.

"Morale around here is at the bottom of the barrel," said Sandy Lowrimore, a 17-year employee and cashier in the Finance Department. "We haven't had cost-of-living raises in three years. We gave them up when they asked us to, willingly. Now they're stabbing us in the back."

The 440 positions eliminated include 120 vacancies, 70 jobs that will be parceled to privatized agencies, 130 contractual positions and 120 merit jobs, temporary posts in which workers must pass tests to advance. The county will add a total of 130 new merit jobs. Mr. Neall said he did not know how many of the current merit workers could qualify for those.

The county will issue final layoff notices June 2.

Employees who have an option of taking a new job must decide whether to do so by June 4.

The county will begin offering outplacement services next week, opening employee counseling centers Monday, offering workshops, job banks and job fairs and placing advertisements on behalf of the displaced workers.

Lawrence Williams, a traffic maintenance worker, said after yesterday afternoon's session that he'd felt secure in his job after giving up a 3 percent raise last year.

"And now they're talking about laying all these people off," he said.

"It doesn't make sense."

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