Planned charter changes opposed Union officials say bid threatens jobs of government workers

April 30, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

Top statewide union officials spoke out last night against proposed changes to the Howard County charter that they say threaten job security for county government workers.

"We have a grave concern over what is taking place in Howard County," Edward A. Mohler, president of the Maryland State and D.C. chapter of the AFL-CIO, told the five-member Howard County Council during a hearing over a series of proposed charter changes to personnel policies and other issues.

Also speaking were six proponents of Question B -- a mechanism by which voters can challenge a zoning or land use decision by collecting enough signatures to put the matter on an election ballot. The council is weighing whether to increase the number of signatures required and whether to limit when Question B can apply.

But such proposals would be a slap in the face to voters who approved Question B in the 1994 elections, said John W. Adolphsen, a Question B proponent. "It is especially disheartening to see attempts to crush genuine citizen interest and involvement when it does occur."

The council will debate the proposed charter changes -- recommended to them by a committee -- over the next several months. Any proposed charter revisions would be placed on the ballot in the November general election.

The proposed changes in the personnel policies already are making workers nervous.

One of those is George Birmingham, 32, who maintains ball fields in West Columbia. Five years ago, he said, he worked on a seven-member crew. Now it's a two-member crew.

Mr. Birmingham said he has worked for the county for 10 years and now makes $28,000 a year. He lives in Baltimore with his three children and wife, who is six months pregnant. Mr. Birmingham delivers pizzas at night.

He's concerned about what he sees as sweeping changes to the personnel system -- not only the charter proposals but recent changes to county law as well. "I've never seen them do this much," he said.

County workers could make more money in the private sector but they like the security of government work, said George Gisin, area representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"Ask yourself why they" work for the county, Mr. Gisin told the council. "They do it for security."

But county officials pushing for the changes insist they are not after anyone's job. In fact, they say a flexible system is the only way to save jobs as the county makes cuts necessary to match decreases in revenue growth.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker wants to reduce the work force through attrition and transfers. And he wants to make pay increases tied more specifically to job performance.

In many instances, the merit system gets in the way, officials say, and they need to fix those.

One example is a specific proposal that would strike the provision from the charter that employees can appeal evaluations to the county's personnel board.

Currently, any employee who receives a mark of satisfactory of higher receives a merit pay increase. But more than 98 percent of those eligible receive the pay raise, in part, perhaps, because some supervisors do not want to go through what can be a time-consuming appeals process.

If the county went to more specific pay increases, officials say it would be easier for supervisors to give the most money to the best workers if they were not concerned about workers appealing the difference among five levels of performance.

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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