A Penny Saved is a Worker's Gripe

August 12, 1994

At best, a county employee earning $30,000 a year could collect an extra, one-time-only payment of $35 if Howard officials decide to retroactively apply a cost of living increase for the 10 days beginning July 1.

Those precious 10 days are in question because county officials chose not to apply the 3 percent pay increases before July 11, the beginning of the new pay period. The result is that some employees are grousing about what they are not getting, even though it isn't very much. It's the principle of the snub.

County officials point out that this isn't the first time that a government wage increase was made to coincide with a pay period and not the beginning of a month, as many employees apparently expected.

Every effort was made to notify workers in advance of the effective date of the paycheck increase. But apparently the notification backfired, focusing workers' attention on what they thought they were losing.

This may all seem like a tempest in a teapot, except that its timing could not be more inopportune for County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who is facing re-election this fall. The 10-day lapse serves to remind the county's approximately 1,700 employees of previous pay raises they didn't receive while Mr. Ecker has been in office.

Because of the county's financial woes, employees received no merit or cost of living increases in fiscal 1992. In 1993, cost of living increases went into effect but there were no merit raises. In 1994, employees got both increases.

This fiscal year's 3 percent across-the-board raise was supposed to continue the positive trend. But not getting the 10 days appears to have soured the reception.

Add to the bad publicity the fact that the county could have avoided the problem if it had instituted a new data programming system on schedule. The system would have made it easier for the county to compute salary increases at two different pay scales, as opposed to the time-consuming task of doing it all by hand, which is what caused officials to choose the July 11 date in the first place.

Mr. Ecker may want to shore up his administration's tarnished image, as well as his relations with staff, by ordering that the increases be made retroactive to July 1. We wouldn't be surprised. After all, 'tis the (election) season to be generous.

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