Council delays holiday, health premiums votes

April 20, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

Responding to a request from County Executive Robert R. Neall, the County Council delayed voting last night on his proposed measures to reduce the number of paid holidays and to require retirees to pay higher health insurance premiums.

Mr. Neall asked for the delay after the measures ran into trouble last week when they were introduced to the council.

County Councilman George Bachman, a Linthicum Democrat, charged last week that the county was trying to use the measures to "circumvent" coming collective bargaining talks with county employee unions. "Isn't this sort of like a club to take down to the collective bargaining table?" Mr. Bachman asked rhetorically.

A protest by police, fire, blue-collar and clerical unions last night fizzled as word of Mr. Neall's request to delay last night's vote spread to county employees. About two dozen employees who had not heard about the request picketed the Arundel Center in Annapolis. Union organizers said they had anticipated 150 protesters.

Nancy Silwick, vice president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 2563, which represents clerical workers, said the announcement of more than 100 layoffs Friday "took a lot of wind out of our sails."

In other action last night, Mr. Neall proposed fee increases at the county's landfills to overcome an operating deficit at the facilities. Under the administration bill, residents who receive county trash pickup would pay $130 a year, up $40 from the current fee. Commercial haulers would also pay increased fees.

One of the personnel bills that the council delayed voting on would have reduced the number of paid holidays for county employees from 15 to 12, eliminating Lincoln's Birthday, Defenders' Day, a holiday that falls on Sept. 12, and the Friday after Thanksgiving. It also would make Good Friday, Columbus Day and Election Day "floating holidays" that employees could schedule with their supervisors.

Louise Hayman, a spokeswoman for Mr. Neall, said the reduction in holidays was designed to make services more accessible to the public by keeping county offices open on traditional holidays.

Scott Harman, vice president of AFSCME Local 582, which represents blue-collar employees, said his union and the county have reached an impasse in contract negotiations. The number of paid holidays county employees should receive is one of the sticking points, he said.

"We don't think it's right the county is trying to go behind our backs to get through legislation what they can't get through negotiation," Mr. Harman said.

A second bill would require retired employees, who now pay 20 percent of their group health insurance premium, to pay more. The county currently pays 80 percent of the premiums.

Under the bill, the maximum the county would pay would be 75 percent of the premium for employees who retired with 30 or more years of service.

The amount the county would pay would decrease for employees who retired with less service. The county would pay nothing to employees with fewer than 10 years.

Ms. Hayman said the change in retiree benefits was proposed for "purely economic reasons."

With health care costs soaring, it is "a financial time bomb. We just can't afford it anymore," she said.

Officials predict the cost of the program to the county, unless it is amended, will increase by 38 percent this year.

Mr. Neall has asked that the council vote on the bills no later than May 15 so that they could take effect when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

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