Balto. Co. executive attacked by unions

Letter says Ruppersberger sidesteps labor in hiring

September 14, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

CLARIFICATION

Several paragraphs about endorsements from organized labor received by C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the Democratic nominee for the 2nd Congressional District, were omitted from an article in yesterday's editions.

Among those endorsing Ruppersberger are the state and local branches of the AFL-CIO, the International Association of Firefighters, United Auto Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers, United Mineworkers of America and United Steelworkers of America.

Ken Allen, president of the Baltimore County Supervisory, Management and Confidential Employees, said he believes union members will support Ruppersberger because the race could help Democrats regain control of Congress, which he said would be better for unions.

Leaders of seven unions representing municipal and public safety employees have accused Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of using part-time workers to circumvent the county's merit system.

County officials say the complaints are baseless. But Republicans, eager to defeat Ruppersberger, a Democrat, in his run for Maryland's 2nd Congressional District seat, trumpet the charges as a sign that local unions will abandon him in the November election.

The unions complain that Ruppersberger has expanded the number of part-time employees. Some are paid less and get fewer benefits than their full-time counterparts, while others are hired to fill unadvertised jobs and get salaries and benefits far beyond union scale.

The unions also accuse the executive of violating the county's charter by using part-time workers in supervisory positions.

Ken Allen, president of the Supervisory, Management and Confidential Employees Union, gave the example of the county jail administrator, who is not a merit system employee, nor is he specifically exempted from the merit system by the county charter, making him, in effect, part-time, Allen says.

"You aspire to represent the public and make laws in Congress, yet you flout the law and the public welfare in your own county," a letter from the unions says.

County officials counter with statistics indicating that growth in the number of part-time employees comes from the county's increasing success at securing grant funds. The number of part-time positions paid out of the general fund has decreased from 936 to 917 in the last 15 years, while the number of part-time positions paid for with grant money has risen from 272 to 718.

It doesn't make sense to create a full-time, merit-system position for a job funded by grants, which typically expire after a short time, said Fred Homan, the county's budget and finance director.

Other employees, particularly in departments such as finance and information technology, have demonstrated that they could earn substantially more than union scale in the private sector. Those workers have requested part-time status so they could avoid county pay scales and negotiate their compensation, Homan said.

And some employees, such as housing inspectors, need to work unusual hours, which the unions wouldn't agree to, Homan said. Those jobs also became part-time.

"The numbers just don't bear out the [notion] that there's any systematic effort to make all positions part-time," Homan said. "There has not been a sustained claim that any part-time employee is not qualified."

Regardless of the reason, union officials said they are concerned about the increase in the number of part-time employees. Some unions - the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees, for example - will not accept part-time workers as members. An increase in the number of such workers means a smaller pool of potential members and a smaller voice in the county for the union.

Leaders of the Supervisory, Management and Confidential Employees Union have long complained about the use of employees outside the county's merit system, but other unions have not rallied to the cause.

Their embrace of the issue now suggests a general dissatisfaction with the executive among local organized labor groups after recent budget negotiations that yielded no cost-of-living increases.

Cole B. Weston, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4 in Baltimore County - which has no part-time employees among its members - said he signed the letter because of the union's belief that employees should be treated fairly.

He added that his organization has found labor negotiations with the Ruppersberger administration increasingly difficult in the past couple of years.

The union leaders said they don't intend their criticism to have implications for Ruppersberger's congressional bid, but the executive is running against a pro-union Republican, former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley.

"Local unions have been inclined to support Helen, as they have in the past, but when you see this kind of statement ... there is a clear choice of who the labor vote should go to," said Michael S. Kosmas, Bentley's campaign coordinator.

The letter also caught the eye of the Republican Party nationally. Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said she sees the letter as one more sign of voter dissatisfaction with Ruppersberger.

Ruppersberger campaign spokesman Rick Binetti said organized labor is solidly behind the executive.

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