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State employees say budget surplus earned on their backs

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AFSCME Maryland President Patrick Moran rallies union members and supporters outside State Center in Baltimore Wednesday night. Credit: Rachel Baye/WYPR

Dozens of state workers and supporters rallied outside State Center in Baltimore Wednesday night over what they decried as a lack of support for the people who keep essential services running.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, the union representing most government employees, highlighted more than 5,000 vacant state positions, and wages that haven’t kept pace with inflation.

The rally centered in part around a recently announced $2.5-billion state budget surplus.

“Let's be clear where the surplus came from,” Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Maryland, said to the crowd. “It came by undercutting, underfunding, understaffing vital public services at the state level and at the county level and at the city level.”

He called on Gov. Larry Hogan to use the money to ensure that all state workers make a living wage, and to fill vacancies at more than a dozen state agencies. At the top of the list, the union says as of July 2021, there were nearly 1,200 vacancies at the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which operates prisons as well as parole and probation.

At a press conference at the beginning of October, Hogan said he plans to use some of the $2.5-billion surplus toward “enhancements” for state workers.

“I have directed the Department of Budget and Management to explore how to best utilize some of these funds to the benefit of our hard-working and dedicated state employees who have been unwavering in their commitment throughout our COVID-19 response,” Hogan said at the time.

When asked for details, he said they would be subject to bargaining, which is now ongoing with AFSCME Maryland.

But Moran expressed doubts about Hogan’s promises.

The administration has “made a concerted effort not to reward state employees that aren't [Maryland State Police] troopers — that aren't, you know, that aren't white males, for the most part,” Moran said. “If you look at the way it lags — the average state employee lags behind the troopers — it's very clear that it's affecting women, and women of color, more.”

Rachel Baye is a reporter for WYPR's newsroom.
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