Council studies repeal of semiannual pay-raise system Union says proposal fits pattern of hostile actions

March 26, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

First it was a new policy on transferring workers. Then it was possible reductions in pay.

Last night, the Howard County Council discussed a new proposal to repeal a law that gives county employees two merit pay raises each year.

And while some council members say they are doing what is best for the workers -- moves that will avoid layoffs -- local unions are getting nervous.

"You start putting all these things together -- red flags are going up all over the place," said Dale Chase, president of the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

After the meeting, he said Howard County unions will play a more active role in supporting pro-labor politicians during elections. "We've been taking hits over the past several years," Mr. Chase said. "We've been good soldiers."

But given today's fiscal problems, the concept of two merit system raises a year is not practical, county officials say. In fact, over the past several years, the council has passed yearly exceptions to the existing law -- and thus limited employees to one merit raise.

One merit increase amounts to a 2.5 percent pay raise, officials said last night. Employees who receive evaluations of "satisfactory" or higher receive the raise. In recent years, only 1.1 percent of those eligible did not receive the raise, said Raquel Sanudo, the county administrator.

At least two Republicans on the five-member council -- Darrel Drown of Ellicott City and Charles Feaga of western Howard County -- want tougher standards.

Said Mr. Drown, "Charlie calls it, I call it, the breathing rule," meaning employees who could breathe received merit increases.

The council's third Republican, Dennis R. Schrader of North Laurel, also has supported recent moves to give county managers more authority over employees.

Under a policy approved recently by the council, supervisors can transfer workers -- at a possible lower salary.

But Democratic Councilman C. Vernon Gray said last night that the law granting two merit system pay raises should remain. During tough years, it can be bypassed, he pointed out.

Ms. Sanudo, the county administrator who serves as County Executive Charles I. Ecker's top lieutenant, seems to agree. She said the administration also wants to limit how much employees can appeal their evaluations.

That would allow managers to give more specific evaluations that were tied to specific pay raises -- say on a scale from 0 to 5 -- without having to defend each evaluation in front of the county personnel board, county officials argue.

But Mr. Chase said such appeals protect county employees who work in a political environment. "It looks like we're headed toward a political patronage system," he said.

Pub Date: 3/26/96

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