Vowing not to "roll over" and accept a ban on compensatory time, a group representing white-collar city employees is hiring an attorney to explore the legality of the action.
"We are still looking at the legality of taking from people benefits they have already earned and converting it into something else," said Bernadette A. Greene, president of Managerial and Professional Society (MAPS), which represents 1,266 white-collar city employees, including most city department heads.
Last month, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke issued an order barring MAPS employees -- who are mostly white-collar professionals -- from accruing compensatory time, which is earned by employees who work beyond their scheduled workday. The change is aimed at limiting the amount of severance pay workers receive when they leave city employment.
The new policy will go into effect in January and affect all MAPS members. Initially, the city comptroller's office had said that the policy would affect only employees who are paid more than $50,000 a year.
Under the new policy, MAPS employees will no longer be credited with compensatory time after January. Any compensatory time they already have accrued will be converted into sick leave. Currently, most city employees leaving city service can cash in unused sick time at the rate of one day's pay for every three days accrued.
MAPS leaders and many of the 175 or so members who attended a noon meeting on the subject yesterday said that the new policy would unfairly penalize members by, in effect, stripping them of time they already earned. Currently, a MAPS employee leaving city service is eligible to take off all of his or her compensatory time before leaving the payroll.
"Switching compensatory time for sick time is not in our view a dollar-for-dollar exchange," said Ms. Greene, who told MAPS members that a lawyer is being hired to review the policy.
Although MAPS is upset about the policy change, there is not much else it can do to prevent it. The group is only an employees' association that does not enjoy the collective bargaining and grievance rights of a labor union. At yesterday's meeting, the group voted to form a task force to explore ways to increase its bargaining clout.
But while the group's leverage is limited, MAPS leaders say they are working to develop counterproposals to the mayor's order.
"We agree that something needs to be done on the compensatory time issue," Ms. Greene said after the meeting. "There has been, I think, some abuse of the system." But she added that MAPS is not happy with the mayor's order.
While the new policy eliminates compensatory time, it allows MAPS employees to be rewarded with as many as 15 leave days for working on "special projects."
The new policy grew out of a comptroller's audit report last year that recommended tighter vacation- and compensatory-leave policies for the city's white-collar work force.
In making his decision, Mr. Schmoke rejected some stricter measures recommended by auditors. Among them was an outright ban on compensatory time for senior officials -- including those who work on special projects -- and a requirement that lower-level officials use their compensatory time within one year. Mr. Schmoke also ignored a recommendation that departing city employees no longer be allowed to trade unused sick time for cash.
City workers received more liberal leave benefits than comparable workers in other area governments.