A provision within the labor contracts the District signed with its largest employee unions in 1997 could end up benefiting 9,000 city workers, as well as Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).

Then-Mayor Marion Barry (D) agreed in August 1997 that if there were a budget surplus in the fiscal year that ended last September, the District would "reopen" negotiations with unions about city workers' pay. There was no detail explaining how much extra money the unions would get, just a commitment to get together and talk about it. Well, the fiscal year ended with a $445 million surplus, so talks are now underway.

On its face, this likely will result in an offer of about a $100 lump-sum payment for each unionized D.C. employee covered by the contracts, city officials suggested. But Williams and his legal counsel, Max Brown, say they are willing to sweeten the offer. If the unions will agree to it, the mayor will offer bonuses that are "substantially" larger, Brown said, but these extra bonuses would be based on an employee's performance. In short, they would not be automatic.

"He wants to pay people well for what they are doing well," Brown said.

Williams, of course, would not be eligible for one of these bonuses. But it would allow him to pursue his goal of improving city services by encouraging city workers to do a better job.

David Schlein, national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said he is ready to talk with city officials about the plan but wants to ensure that workers are compensated fairly, regardless of any incentive program.

"We have made substantial sacrifices over the last five years to help the city out of its financial crisis," said Schlein, whose union represents about 4,500 of the 9,000 eligible city workers. "It is time for the city to live up to its agreement that when it got in better shape, the sacrifices the city workers made would be repaid."

A similar effort is about to get started with the city's 1,200 or so middle managers. Within the next couple of months, middle managers will be offered a chance to join what is being called the Management Supervisory Service, a program that will shift them into "at-will" jobs, meaning they could be terminated if they do not do good work, D.C. officials said.

In exchange for this less stable status, the managers would be eligible for cash bonuses. Brown would not say how much extra money is being offered, but the money won't be the only incentive for workers to sign up for the new program. If the managers decline, they will risk being transferred to lower-ranking jobs.

"It allows the mayor to put together a high-quality, high-performance cadre of middle and senior managers in the government and hold them accountable for performance," Brown said. "This will fundamentally reshape the management corps of the city, rewarding the good managers and letting the others go."

Painful Caricature

Williams let it be known late last week that he was less than pleased when he saw the July 2 cover of Washington City Paper.

Next to the headline "The Big Choke" was a caricature of Williams gasping and looking like his neck had been repeatedly twisted around. Above a massive polka-dot tie, Williams was also shown with clenched teeth, a bulging left eye and large beads of sweat dripping down a bald forehead.

"I am a human being," Williams said when asked about the cover at a news conference last week. "The cover I thought went overboard. I really did. I thought it was disrespectful to the Office of the Mayor. If it is disrespectful to Tony Williams, who cares? . . . But I thought if it was not right on the boundary, it was over the boundary. It showed the mayor being strangled. It seems to me that it is a little overboard."