The fiscal wisdom of the Maryland Transit Administration's decision to close a decades-old in-house printing shop in Baltimore and to outsource printing jobs is being questioned by a lawmaker and a local union.
Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said the department concluded early this summer that closing the 11-man operation and contracting for the printing of bus schedules, signs, brochures and other materials to the private sector would save money and allow more workers to be focused on the "core mission" of the MTA. He said the workers will be reassigned to other state jobs.
Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, said he heard about the plan from constituents and has questioned Flanagan and other administration officials about it.
Della said he asked whether the administration considered in its calculations that other state agencies send work to the MTA shop for printing. If the shop were closed, he said, that work would have to be outsourced, too.
After inquiries from Della and others, Flanagan agreed to a monthlong review of the plan, but he said he might close the shop in the meantime.
"The print shop is not part of the core mission," Flanagan said. "Our preliminary analysis indicated that there was a substantial savings. Given the fact that this has been questioned by members of the legislature and others, we are having that conclusion cross-checked."
Flanagan declined to say what his initial cost-saving estimate was.
The union that represents the workers said it was notified of the decision July 27, two weeks before the state originally planned to close the shop.
George Kapanoske, who represents the workers for the Office and Professional Employees International Union, said he has been given no explanation of how the decision was made, where the state plans to send the work or how officials believe for-profit businesses can do the work for less than government employees.
"Any private corporation is doing this for profit - they're not going to do it for cheaper," Kapanoske said.
He estimated that the in-house print shop does the work for 60 percent less than the private sector.
The MTA already outsources about 40 percent of its printing work to the private sector, Flanagan said. Of the remainder, Flanagan estimated that other agency printing shops could handle about 20 percent of the work.
Last year, the MTA spent $717,000 on outsourcing printing, according to Jack Cahalan, a Transportation Department spokesman. Its budget for the print shop was $1.4 million, he said.
The MTA has done a "minimal amount" of printing work for other state agencies in the past, Cahalan said. Such work generated $28,000 in reimbursements to MTA for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2003, he said.
Flanagan said the agency has not sought a contract to handle the new work the MTA would have to outsource if the shop closes. Jobs would be handled on a case-by-case basis under competitive bidding rules, he said.
The impetus for eliminating the print shop was a mandate by the General Assembly to cut staff positions, Flanagan said. Although none of the print shop workers will be fired, they will be assigned to tasks Flanagan deemed more essential to the agency's operations.
According to the letter from the agency to the union, some of the workers will be offered jobs as inventory and purchasing clerks. Others will be assigned to the agency's treasury department, where they will process and count cash collected from fare boxes.
One print shop worker, who requested anonymity for fear of professional reprisals, said he and others in the shop were shocked by the plan. Many workers there have decades of experience in printing, and he said they can make a much bigger contribution to the state in their current jobs than as clerks.