Gov. Larry Hogan going home after Md. state employees demand more staffing, pay increases

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By Ovetta Wiggins

Hundreds of state employees, including social workers, demonstrated outside the Maryland State House late Wednesday night to demand raises and better working conditions from the administration of Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

The public rebuke of Hogan, from workers represented by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3, came just before the start of early voting in the highly charged governor’s race, in which Hogan is holding a commanding lead over Democratic nominee Ben Jealous.

#HoganGotToGo #HoganPaysLess#TheTruthiscoming #AFSCMESTRONG #AFSCME3STRONG#WeWantOurMoneyMoney video courtesy Joey Morals

Protesters chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Hogan must go,” highlighting the strained relationship between the governor and the union over the past four years. The labor group has repeatedly criticized Hogan for staffing shortages and the effect they have on workers and the delivery of state services.

“I’m talking foster care, parole and probation, mental health,” said Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3, which represents more than 20,000 state workers. “People are grossly understaffed in numerous departments across the state, and overtime and caseloads bear that out.”

Earlier this year, Hogan was confronted by relatives of state corrections officers, who said a major staffing shortage has left their family members at risk on the job. After a heated exchange, one woman yelled at Hogan: “And if anything happens to our loved ones, it’s on you.”

About a month after the confrontation, the governor sent a letter to the state’s 4,700 correctional officers outlining the actions the administration has taken to try to address the staffing problems. The government recently started a class with 22 trainees, hoping to help fill 120 open spots at Eastern Correctional Institution, Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said Thursday.

AFSCME officials said that its members have received a cost-of-living adjustment but have not had a step increase, or full raise, in six years.

At the same time, they said, employees are seeing “dramatic” increases in their workload. For example, they said, some social workers are working on 20 cases, while the industry standard is 12.

“It is in­cred­ibly distressing that people are doing more work with less,” Moran said.

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Laurice Jones, an employee with the Baltimore City Department of Social Services, who spoke at Wednesday night’s protest, said there are 70 unfilled child welfare jobs in her agency, and workers are quitting because “the pay is too low and the work is too high.”

“We are losing staff every day,” she said. “When we are short-staffed and our resources are underfunded, it’s the children of Baltimore City who suffer.”

According to the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the department has 1,200 openings.

Gerard Shields, a spokesman for the department, said “What gets lost in this debate is that we’ve also had a 20 percent drop in our prison population in the last 10 years.” Still, union officials said guards and other state employees are routinely forced to work overtime.

Chasse forwarded a one-page “fact sheet” about efforts to hire correctional officers, which says that 3 out of 4 overtime shifts are filled voluntarily and that Maryland is not unlike many states across the country in having trouble filling correctional officer positions. She said that the administration has been negotiating with AFSCME in good faith and that the protest tactics “are an unfortunate setback in that process.”

Last week, the union filed an unfair labor practices claim against the administration.

“Our administration has a strong record of working with and supporting state employees, including providing a 2.5 percent raise and $500 bonus for every employee this fiscal year,” Chasse said.

In December, the union and Hogan agreed to a deal that gave state workers a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment. Last month, Budget Secretary David Brinkley sent a letter notifying workers that they would receive a 0.5 percent increase and a $500 bonus on April 1, 2019.

Moran said the allowances are not enough and are less generous than agreements that other leaders, including in Pennsylvania and the District, have made with public employees.

Hogan has been endorsed by dozens of public safety unions, including many local chapters, but Jealous, a former NAACP president and longtime civil rights leader, has captured most of the labor support in the race, including AFSCME’s endorsement.

On Thursday, Jealous said in a statement that state employees “deserve a governor who values them as much as they value all of us. I support our public employees in their fight for fair pay and better working conditions — a no-brainer investment that benefits us all.”

Union leaders say their sour relationship with Hogan dates from 2015, the governor’s first year in office, when Hogan removed a 2 percent raise from the state budget. After pushback from unions and Democratic lawmakers, he agreed to move forward with the pay increases.

Via Washington Post 

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