June 28, 2010

WHAT RECESSION? Leggett extends paid-off time to workers

Montgomery County employees are set to receive extra paid time off next year amid layoffs for fellow workers and shrinking county services, according to union agreements obtained by The Washington Examiner. County Executive Ike Leggett has signed off on an arrangement granting municipal employees and police officers 26 hours more in paid leave next year. Firefighters would get an extra 48 hours.

Officials call it a concession to a county work force forced to take furloughs in coming months. Depending on salary, workers will take between three and eight days of unpaid vacation. School employees are not being furloughed. However, some were flabbergasted with the agreement, saying it sends the wrong message to residents -- who will pay roughly $250 in new taxes next fiscal year, go without toilets in public parks, and pay to park at certain libraries because of the county's unprecedented $1 billion shortfall.

"I think it's a bad idea; it's not justified," said Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville. "It's a bad move to increase leave when you're already reducing services."

Andrews said county employees will use the new leave days in place of already granted time off. In effect, he says, it will lead to a buildup of vacation days for employees that must be paid out in future years. Leggett, in a memo to the council, says the new agreement will have no fiscal effect. Council staff is examining the validity of that assertion, officials told The Examiner. The County Council is slated to review the bargaining agreements next month. Union leaders say the paid hiatus is small consolation for broken promises from county leaders. In addition to furloughs, the county halted so-called phantom cost of living increases pledged to county workers that were supposed to supplement frozen wages.

"The county should have cut management, not the front-line work force," said Gail Heath, special assistant to the president of the Municipal County Government Employees Organization. "We didn't make those decisions. We've been lobbying for a sustainable government for years. We are very top-heavy."

And Leggett's representatives called the compromise necessary to appease burned employees.

"We felt we would be able to do this with very little impact to county services," said spokesman Patrick Lacefield. "That's just 26 hours in a 2,040-hour work year. It's a pretty small amount of work." SOURCE: Washington Examiner

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