Heat leave grievance is settled

October 04, 1994|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Sun Staff Writer

Everybody talks about the weather, but only Daniel P. Henson III tried to do something about it.

Last year, Baltimore's top housing official unilaterally ended "heat leave," a little-known perk for his maintenance workers. The contract provision had allowed them to stop work -- but continue to be paid -- if temperatures reached 90 degrees by noon with at least 55 percent humidity.

But Mr. Henson's move fizzled. On payday last week, he paid 415 employees $200 apiece to settle their grievance over having to work during the dog days of 1993 and 1994, Baltimore Labor Commissioner Melvin Harris said.

The total cost to end the squabble was $83,000 -- a payment Mr. Henson refused to discuss or even acknowledge yesterday.

"Heat leave has been history for over a summer now," he said, adding, "The grievance doesn't exist now, and we're all lovey-dovey and amicable. We're not going to pick over old wounds."

Heat leave, which no other city employees receive, had been a part of the authority maintenance worker's labor pact since 1963.

Baltimore's Housing Authority was the only agency in the nation to receive such a weather-related leave, said Daryl Pertee, president of AFSCME Local 647, which represents the authority's maintenance workers.

"There was a need for a safety mechanism for our people when they work in certain climate conditions not conducive to their health," Mr. Pertee said.

But in August 1993, Mr. Henson halted heat leave after workers had been sent home with pay 17 times. The leave had cost taxpayers more than $200,000 that year -- even as a backlog of work orders topped 30,000 in the city's publicly owned apartments.

As angry workers picketed last summer over losing their leave, their representatives from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees filed a grievance. The issue was headed to arbitration at the time of last week's lump sum payment.

Mr. Pertee said each worker had lost about 60 hours of paid time off this summer and last year because the heat leave was rescinded. That adds up to between $536 and $780 of lost pay for each of the workers -- far short of the $200 lump sum payment, he said.

Under their current contract, workers can leave work in sweltering weather -- but must use vacation and personal leave time to do so, the union official added.

"There are a lot of bad feelings about heat leave," said Donnie Harper, a maintenance clerk at Lafayette Courts.

"Mr. Henson took something he never should have. If he came to us and said, 'Look, let's tighten the belt,' we would have. But he just cut it out."

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