Expanded benefits sought for part-time Baltimore County workers


May 10, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has proposed giving expanded vacation, sick leave and paid holidays to government employees who work between 30 and 39 hours a week.

The county employs hundreds of such workers, mostly in social services jobs that are funded at least partly by grant money. But because these employees are not considered part of the county's merit system, they have fewer benefits and enjoy less job security, which has led to complaints and lawsuits.

One of those lawsuits, brought by four part-time employees, was dismissed by a Baltimore County judge last summer but is scheduled for a hearing today by the Court of Appeals.

The number of part-time employees in county government has increased over the years as the county has sought to avoid putting workers who are paid through grant funds into the merit system. Doing so, county officials argue, could saddle them with picking up salaries they can't afford if grants run out.

But the system has sparked intense criticism from some employees who say they are part time in name only. Because they receive fewer paid holidays and vacation days, some say they work more hours per year than their full-time counterparts and that they lack job protections of the merit system.

Smith spokeswoman Renee Samuels said the executive is directing the proposal at workers in the information technology department in hopes of making jobs there more competitive with the private sector.

She said many high-tech workers for the county are termed part time because hiring them full time through the merit system would rob the county of the ability to react quickly to new technological challenges.

The proposal is also a matter of equity, Samuels said, because many part-time employees do the same work as their merit system counterparts.

Under Smith's proposal, which is scheduled for a County Council vote June 7, employees who work between 30 and 39 hours a week would accrue vacation and sick leave at seven-eighths the rate of full-time employees. For example, a starting full-time employee would get 96 hours of vacation a year; a part-time employee working at least 30 hours a week would earn 84 hours.

The bill would also entitle some part-timers 10 paid holidays a year, or 11 in years with a general election day.

Samuels said the change likely would not have a fiscal impact on the county. As it is, part-timers often work extra hours to accumulate more time off so they can take the same holidays as other county employees.

"Really, it will balance itself out in the end," she said.

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