State workers rally before negotiations

Union employees seek increases, noting lag behind others' pay scales

November 05, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Several dozen state workers in Baltimore braved a chill wind yesterday to press Maryland officials for bigger pay checks.

The rally at the state office complex by members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees comes on the eve of pay negotiations between the union and state officials.

AFSCME leaders highlighted what they say is a substantial gap between many state salaries and those of government workers in Maryland counties and in nearby states.

With that gap as a rallying cry, union officials hope to capitalize on the state's substantial budget surplus, which is projected to reach $600 million this year.

"Not a dime of it should be spent anywhere until the state brings its own employees up to the salaries of everyone else," said Donna S. Edwards, president of AFSCME Council 92.

Whatever the outcome of the union negotiations, any pay raise for state employees would have to be approved by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the General Assembly during the legislative session beginning in January.

State officials involved in union negotiations were not available to comment yesterday.

On average, salaries of state workers are 80 percent of those for comparable government jobs in counties and surrounding states, according to AFSCME.

Glendening and the Assembly approved annual across-the-board raises of $1,275 last year and this year. Those raises came after a period in which state employees received only two increases in six years.

The governor appointed the board yesterday that will monitor collective bargaining with state workers. He threw a bouquet to organized labor in naming the former leader of a public employees' union to head the panel.

James A. Shearer, the longtime executive director of AFSCME Local 2250, will chair the five-member State Labor Relations Board.

The AFSCME local negotiates with the Prince George's County school board on behalf of bus drivers, teacher aides and other nonteaching employees.

Shearer, 63, is retired and lives in Calvert County.

The board was created as part of a law passed this year to guarantee state employees collective bargaining rights. Under the law, one panel member is the state budget secretary, Frederick W. Puddester.

To fill the other slots, Glendening appointed Deborah F. Moore, deputy labor commissioner in Baltimore; Sherry Lynn Mason, human resources manager at Mack Trucks in Hagerstown; and Vincent P. Mona, owner of an off-track betting operation in Charles County.

Except for Puddester, the members must be confirmed by the Senate for their six-year terms.

The board's duties include supervising union negotiations, setting rules for union elections and investigating allegations of unfair labor practices.

Sun staff writer Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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