School workers seek protection in reform bill Delegate says union is inciting 'hysteria'

March 13, 1997|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Pressing its case for broader protections, a union representing hundreds of Baltimore public school clerical employees said yesterday it would oppose an education aid-and-reform bill unless the legislature guarantees workers can cash in unused sick leave and keep their seniority in applying for other city jobs.

But the chief sponsor of legislation sending $254 million in new aid to the city in exchange for a school management overhaul accused union leaders of trying to foment "hysteria," saying negotiators had agreed to preserve key collective bargaining rights for employees and were unlikely to agree to more changes.

"The money is nice, but [the legislature] has to fix our problems," said Chester D. Wilton, head of the City Union of Baltimore, which represents about 425 school employees. Otherwise, he said, "Our decision is to kill the bill until it's dead."

The Baltimore Teachers Union -- which represents about 8,000 teachers and classroom aides, the bulk of the system's 10,000 school employees -- said it also wanted the bill modified but stopped short of saying what it would do if changes weren't made.

"Our position is the same as it has always been: We want to fix the bill and not kill it," said teachers union spokeswoman Laura Meehan.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings said negotiators had agreed to recognize existing unions but were not prepared to usurp the authority of a newly created school board over personnel issues.

He brushed off the union threat to derail the bill if more changes weren't made.

"The bottom line is collective bargaining is protected, despite the union rhetoric," said Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat whose Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote on amendments to his bill Saturday.

"The unions are trying to drum up hysteria about this piece of legislation," he added.

Union members who attended yesterday's news conference and meeting said they were worried about preserving their jobs and longtime benefits.

"We are loyal employees. Don't come in and wipe us out like we don't exist," said Krystal Gardner, an accounting assistant who has been with the school system for 21 years.

"I don't think I should fight for something I already have. It's not fair," added Laverne Stills, a data entry operator and 16-year school system veteran.

In addition to keeping cash-in of sick leave and citywide seniority, union officials want to protect rights for 200 part-time employees and to extend city Civil Service protections from one year to three while the new school board develops its personnel rules.

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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