Balto. Co. to launch 'gainsharing' Employees who offer ways to spend less can get part of savings

June 02, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

After years of being told what to do and how to do it, Baltimore County's workers are being asked by their bosses how things should be done -- and getting a chance to collect cash for their ideas.

It's called "gainsharing," and the Ruppersberger administration's first two demonstration programs are almost ready to begin. Already, ideas to save money and improve performance have begun to spring up -- from reducing the amount of celery in jail food to mowing parks more frequently.

Participating in the initial programs are the county's 87 park maintenance workers and the 14 correctional officers who staff the detention center kitchen.

Some county employees left out of those programs are resentful, but the beneficiaries include Tom Hargis and Joe McQuaid. They say they have been telling their bosses for years that modern equipment will let them maintain county parks and ball fields better -- but that no one ever listened.

Collecting trash in bags instead of in putrid, leaky, 55-gallon drums can create considerable savings, workers say.

From the kitchen staff have come ideas such as substituting ground turkey for ground beef, and keeping food portions consistent in meals. Just by reducing onions and celery in meals, the correctional officers expect to save $5,110 a year.

Between them, the two groups hope to save $215,258 -- half of which would go to the county and the rest would be divided among the participating worker groups.

But any money the parks maintenance workers get to split is strictly secondary, said McQuaid, who works at the county's Inwood maintenance shop near Security Square Mall. "It's a very wonderful program. They listened better than they ever have," he said of his bosses.

The employees say they want to do a more professional job and take back work from private contractors that Baltimore County has hired.

"The equipment we're getting, we should have gotten anyway," said Hargis, who works out of the Texas shop in the Cockeysville area. "What we need is a raise."

But he agreed that gainsharing and the top-level attention coming with it are good. "It makes you feel like you're doing a better job," he said.

Recreation and Parks Director John F. Weber III said he wants to reduce mowing cycles from about 17 days to 10 days for parks and to cut by half the 10-day cycle for ball fields.

He said the county's equipment was so poor and outmoded when he was hired to head the department last year that "I couldn't believe it."

Gainsharing "allows employees to be shareholders in government," said County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, with the cash bonuses "just part of the incentive."

While the kitchen correctional officers could get up to $3,000 each if their ideas pay off, fellow officers who patrol the rest of the jail are resentful. Their union, the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees, is opposed to gainsharing.

Already angry that jail officers received no general pay raise this year, some guards have threatened to sabotage the gainsharing effort, according to a written draft of the money-saving plan compiled by the jail kitchen plan.

"The average correctional officer isn't going to benefit," union President James L. Clark said, pointing to the exclusion of those responsible for supervising distribution of meals and accounting for utensils.

The monetary gains should be subject to collective bargaining, he said.

Jail dietary officer Judy Dorsey said she has been talking to the disgruntled officers, and they are willing to listen. She and her supervisor, Harry Graham, have been explaining that if the pilot program works, they and all other county workers could benefit.

"We haven't taken anything from them," Dorsey said.

Administration officials are working on ideas to satisfy the other guards, such as spending some portion of savings for their benefit. "Most are receptive," Graham said about his talks with other guards. "They start coming up with ideas, too."

The county conducted a seminar on the two initial programs May 22, seeking ideas and opinions from a panel of business, academic and labor leaders. The plans will be be fine-tuned for an expected July 1 starting date, said Steven L. Kirchner, Ruppersberger's chief financial officer.

The first money to employees could come in February, if savings result from their ideas.

"This is not a permanent salary supplement," Kirchner said. Payouts would last only a year or two, while continued savings would accrue to the county.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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