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The Nose

Workers' Condensation

Posted 3/28/2001

Hands are getting shaky at City Hall and other municipal outposts in the wake of Mayor Martin O'Malley's early-March request that agency heads identify jobs His Budget-Slashing Honor can cut. With the city facing a $21 million deficit this year--and with the first installment of a 33-percent raise to city cops and firefighters coming due--O'Malley and budget chief Peggy Watson are relying on city managers to winnow away waste and eliminate redundant positions.

Nowhere has The Fear set in more deeply than among the 1,000 workers in the city's Bureau of General Services (BGS)--primarily janitors, repairpersons, guards, and mechanics, plus a few engineers. Some BGS workers (including security guards, landscapers, and laborers at the Pulaski Highway impound lot) were targeted in last year's Greater Baltimore Committee/Presidents' Roundtable report on streamlining city government. Privatizing those functions could save the city millions in payroll and health-insurance costs, the business groups posited. Now, City Union of Baltimore (CUB) officials say the city may be looking to cut nearly a quarter of the bureau's work force.

"People are in a panic mode," CUB President Sheila Jordan says. "The mayor hasn't exactly made it a secret that he'd like to cut. We'd like to get some straight answers from the city. We need to be in a position where we can tell our workers whether they'll be retrained if they're laid off or what their unemployment benefits will be." To get some answers, Jordan tentatively has scheduled an April 3 meeting with Deputy Mayor Michael Enright. (The union is in negotiations with City Hall on a new contract; the current deal expires June 30.)

Mayoral spokesperson Tony White says there's no exact timetable for when city-government heads will roll, although he adds ominously that "layoffs are imminent." He wouldn't confirm whether BGS is a favored target. "I think the mayor wants to get all the information possible before making any decisions," White says.

At least one city elected official suggests the mayor is looking for fat in all the wrong places. "If they really want to cut, maybe they should look at the [four] deputy mayors," who each make more than $100,000 a year, says the official, who requested anonymity. "Nobody can figure out what they do."

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