Maryland parole and probation agents have won an unusual midyear pay raise from the governor, though they still will be among the lowest paid in the nation.
The Glendening administration has promised agents a 6 percent raise beginning Jan. 1, six months earlier than raises typically begin.
The raise also is unusual because the state has not budgeted for it. Public safety officials plan to scrape together savings from other, still undetermined areas to finance it.
"We recognize that this group of employees is near the bottom of the pay scale when compared to other states," said Buddy W. Roogow, a deputy chief of staff to Gov. Parris N. Glendening. "So, despite the difficult fiscal constraints as a result of federal budget cuts and slowly growing revenues, the governor felt it was necessary to approve this increase."
The pay raise comes after two years of negotiations with a coalition of three labor unions and a professional association.
"This is definitely a step in the right direction," said Ernest Eley Jr., president of the Maryland Association of Parole and Probation Agents.
Agents, who make an average of $28,000 to $30,000 a year, have complained of being overworked and underpaid. About 620 agents supervise 47,000 convicts who have been paroled from prison or sentenced to probation.
"We're responsible for securing public safety, and we do it at great risk. We go into neighborhoods without protection that some police wouldn't go into with a gun," said Agent A. B. Bakari, a coordinator of the employee coalition.
Agents are expected to play an even bigger public safety role in the future. As it becomes costlier to run prisons, Maryland and other states are relying on agents to supervise more offenders in the community in home detention and other programs.
Although union representatives said they were glad of the increase, they said that Maryland agents still will earn well below the national average for their profession.
Agents in Maryland make from $19,128 to $33,229 a year after getting the 2 percent cost-of-living raise that all state workers received July 1, said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a public safety department spokesman. Those salaries are $5,000 to $7,000 below the national average, according to the 1995 Corrections Yearbook.
Maryland salaries are even further behind those paid by Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and the federal government.
The 6 percent figure represents an average of raises distributed across different pay categories. With the raise in January, Maryland salaries will range from $20,499 to $35,800. The increase will cost the state an extra $2 million a year, Mr. Sipes said.
Some agents say the pay still will be low, especially because they are college graduates. State employee unions have sought raises of 16 percent to 24 percent -- the equivalent of two to three "grades" on the salary scale -- for the agents.
Agents are divided on the 6 percent raise. "Some people would say it's better than nothing, and others would say we could get more," said Frederick Blow, field services director at the Maryland Classified Employees Association, a union.
After meeting Sept. 8 with Mr. Roogow and Public Safety Secretary Bishop L. Robinson, two unions decided to keep negotiating rather than protest this week. "We're going to continue to try to scratch it out at the table," Mr. Blow said.
But a third, the Maryland Correctional Union, decided to march on Annapolis anyway. More than 50 people protested Monday night outside the State House as the governor worked inside. Dianna D. Rosborough, the governor's press secretary, said that her boss is sympathetic to the agents' concerns but that the state cannot afford higher raises.