A union representing Maryland state employees is asking a legislative committee to grant additional protections to workers whose jobs are targeted for elimination during the state budget process.
More than 300 employees have been terminated in that fashion, according to a report sent this week by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92 to a special legislative committee probing firings by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration.
The committee focused largely on the administration's firing of so-called at-will employees, who serve at the pleasure of the governor, and whether those terminations were politically motivated or improper.
Administration officials say they have dismissed 284 such employees in Ehrlich's first three years, and none was a merit-system worker. Such workers have additional job protections.
The vast majority of the jobs that were abolished through budget cuts, however, belonged to merit-system employees, which raises some troubling questions, said Sue Esty, legislative director for the union, which represents 30,000 state and university employees.
"You might as well be an at-will employee if your job can be abolished like this," Esty said, adding that some workers wonder whether they were targeted because of their race or age. "We have gotten a lot of calls from people who feel like they have been terminated, and there is no other logic to it."
The terminations occurred when specific positions were targeted in Ehrlich's budget proposal or through deletions made by lawmakers later in the budget process. Still others have occurred by a vote of the Board of Public Works, a three-member panel on which Ehrlich (R) sits.
Esty said the process should be governed by stricter rules, and workers whose positions are abolished should be allowed to displace another worker in the agency with less seniority. That policy governs other situations involving layoffs, she said.
Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said it is too early to evaluate the union's proposals.
"It seems a little premature to discuss initiatives that would result from the special committee while it is still in the process of uncovering absolutely nothing," DeLeaver said.
Absent documentation, she said, the union's concerns about targeting by race or other criteria are "just a presumptuous, unfounded accusation."
Esty said the union asked the administration for a breakdown of abolished positions by race, sex and age and was told such documentation does not exist.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), a member of the legislative committee, said terminations that result from the budget process could become part of the panel's review.
"There's a lot of different ways to get rid of people, and that's certainly one of them," Frosh said.
The union's report also seeks to demonstrate several problems with the way the administration has used at-will positions.
From January 2003 to June 2005, the report says, the administration reclassified more than 80 positions from merit-system jobs to at-will positions. The collective salary costs for those positions jumped by more than $1 million, the report says.
The report also contends that use of "at-will" classifications in some agencies has allowed hiring unrelated to qualifications.