Approximately 10,000 state employees who are required to work during Maryland’s COVID-19 state of emergency will no longer receive extra pay during this period.
In a letter dated March 21, Cynthia A. Kollner, executive director of the state office of personnel services and benefits, wrote that “premium pay for all agency designated emergency personnel and mission critical personnel cease at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, March 22, 2020.”
Nicholas Pepersack, Deputy Chief of Staff for the Department of Budget and Management, said in a statement the administration never intended to provide “unlimited premium pay for the duration of the pandemic to all state employees who reported to their offices to work.”
He said the pay was meant to compensate employees while state agencies worked out plans to protect them. And now that those plans are worked out, he said they “are confident that the essential state employees who must report to their workplaces can safely do so now at no greater risk to their health than those who are able to telework from home.”
But Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Maryland, the largest state employee union, argued that the number of those infected with COVID-19 climb as well as the death toll. Employees are taking risks, regardless of the safety procedures.
“They’re asking people to put themselves in very compromising positions from the health and safety standpoint, because there is no social distancing possible," he said.
Those affected include employees in state prisons and mental hospitals, social workers who do home visits, emergency transportation workers, Port Administration workers and parole and probation officers.
“State employees are holding the fort down, so we have an orderly and safe state and environment and society. And we want to compensate people for taking that risk,” Moran said.
What the administration called “premium pay” in the letter and unionized workers call “hazard pay,” or “emergency pay,” amounts to double time and comes while many state agencies are understaffed, union officials say.
A recent report by The Baltimore Sun shows that correctional officer vacancies have quadrupled since Hogan has been governor.
Last year, overtime pay in Maryland prisons had risen to $129 million with 20% of officers’ jobs vacant. By contrast, reports The Sun, in 2013, the prison system paid out $41 million in overtime and counted about 5% of positions as vacant.
Dorian Johnson, a correctional officer at the Chesapeake Detention Facility in Baltimore, says he often is required to work four double shifts in a seven day stretch.
And while that’s risky enough, he says, the existence of the coronavirus has made it a “high risk situation.”
"They do not have tests but they are taking inmates' temperatures and they're cleaning more. But we know that's not enough." Johnson said while they will no longer get the extra pay, they are still “taking a risk by coming to a confined area.”
“People are very nervous” Johnson said. “They’re telling people to stay home but we’re being forced to work, and we can’t stay home with everyone else. It may come to that point where people do not come to work because they feel unsafe.”
The state remains in a state of emergency, he said. “We don’t understand why this is being cut. We don’t understand that at all.”
This post has been updated.