Hearing begins battle over pay Gary proposal seeks to change system for nonunion workers

March 28, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

A bill that could significantly change the way hundreds of Anne Arundel workers are paid will come before the County Council for a hearing tonight, kicking off the administration's bid to make public employment more like the private sector.

County Executive John G. Gary is pushing the legislation that would have broad implications for the county's 731 nonunion employees, mostly middle-management staff. The first piece of his personnel reform agenda, the bill offers a preview to union leaders who will be confronted with many of the same proposals at the bargaining table this summer.

The Republican administration expects to save $1.1 million a year -- about 1 cent in the property tax rate -- by stripping from nonunion employees such long-held civil service perquisites as longevity raises. Instead, workers would be eligible for pay increases of up to 10 percent based on merit and could earn 15 percent more than they do now at the top of a new salary scale.

The bill would effectively cut the hourly wage of 118 employees by extending their workweek from 35 hours to 40 hours without increasing their pay. County administrators say the added productivity would be the equivalent of hiring almost 15 people.

"Obviously, the administration is proposing a totally different concept," said Council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans, an Arnold Republican. "It looks like you either do what they are suggesting in this bill, or you maintain what we have."

Mr. Gary has made reforming the personnel code a primary goal this year. He has told the county's 3,500 employees that his 1997 budget will not contain raises, the third year without pay increases.

Salary and benefits account for 75 percent of Anne Arundel's $733 million budget. Facing stagnant property-tax revenues, Mr. Gary has asked employees to sacrifice and hinted at layoffs if they won't.

"We are not planning for a reduction in the county work force," said E. Hilton Wade Jr., the county personnel officer. "We are trying to preserve the jobs of every county employee and to have some latitude for salary adjustments."

County union leaders, who have reached an impasse with the administration on a new contract, have criticized the proposal as Mr. Gary's attempt to subject employees to the vagaries of the private sector without its benefits.

By removing automatic raises for years served, labor leaders say, pay increases will be decided by the whim of supervisors. Union leaders add that private-sector employees often receive annual bonuses, something unheard of in civil service jobs.

"I think a lot of this could play into favoritism, nepotism and possibly even greed," said Helen Simpson, president of Lodge 2563 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "If someone works for a supervisor that doesn't care for them personally, they may never get a raise."

Ms. Simpson said she plans to testify at the hearing.

Ms. Evans and other council members say criteria for "pay for performance" raises must be established to ensure fair treatment.

"Human nature such as it is, there need to be standards," she said. "People need to know how they are being judged."

Councilman George F. Bachman, a Linthicum Democrat and staunch defender of labor rights, said he will need more information from the administration before voting on the bill -- especially because officials have said the measure is the first of several that will come before the council this year.

"The county is going to be using this as a model," Mr. Bachman said. "I'm not satisfied with the information we've received so far."

The hearing is scheduled for 7: 30 p.m. in the Arundel Center.

Pub Date: 3/28/96

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