State workers demand raises and better pensions

January 27, 1998|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

In an emotional march on the Maryland State House, more than 300 state workers vowed last night to mount an intense, personal appeal for better pay and pension benefits.

Social workers, correctional officers and other unionized state employees held aloft handmade signs with an election-year reminder for the legislature.

"I want some respect! And I vote!" shouted George Reason, a veterans employment representative with the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

State workers came from across Maryland to protest that they have not received a raise in several years, and their retirement benefits rank among the lowest in the nation.

Chanting "We want a raise! We want a raise now!" several dozen capped off the rally by marching up the granite steps of the state Capitol just as legislators took their seats.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has budgeted across-the-board increases of $1,275 for every state employee. If approved by the legislature, the workers would receive the raise next year, for many of them the first in three years.

The governor and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. support a plan to increase retirement benefits for about 200,0000 workers, teachers and retirees -- though it carries a long-term price tag to employees and taxpayers of about $3 billion.

"It's one thing to say you're going to give us a raise. We're here to make sure it isn't just lip service," said Elva Green, a Baltimore County social worker who complained she makes $5,000 to $8,000 a year less on the state payroll than colleagues on the county's.

"We're committed to serving the public," she said. "We're not out there job-hopping. We're long-term employees with a lot of experience, and that should count for something."

Jim Hobson worried about his retirement. He noted a study last year by the State Retirement Agency that found Maryland offered the fewest benefits of 47 state plans for teachers, and was next to last among 46 plans for nonteaching employees. Legislative leaders have asked for another study that is to be completed within weeks.

"We should get retirement benefits like other people do," said Hobson, a market analyst for the Maryland Port Administration who has worked for the state for 22 years.

Pub Date: 1/27/98

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