AFSCME Calls on Legislature to Act Following Staffing Study

AFSCME members have long called for increased staffing in State departments across Maryland. Now, legislator’s own researchers are admitting what our members have known for years: public services in Maryland are critically understaffed.

A Tipping Point for Staffing in Maryland

According to a newly-released staffing study by the Department of Legislative Services, Maryland government needs to fill 1500 vacant jobs and add and additional 1,126 new positions – 2,600 in total. Half of them in the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Wednesday, January 17th in Annapolis, AFSCME Maryland testified about the staffing crisis affecting essential State-run facilities and urged lawmakers to take action to recruit new workers and offer financial incentives to retain experienced, dedicated workers.

Deborah E. Williams, who retired from Eastern Correctional Institution’s Poplar Hill Pre-Release Unit in November, warned lawmakers that the staffing levels at the state’s prisons have reached a tipping point – referring to assaults and mandatory overtime that leaves staff exhausted after their shifts.

Retention, Recruitment Hindered by Stagnant Wages

The report also highlighted the issue of low pay across State departments.

During bargaining sessions last year, AFSCME fought back against the State’s unwillingness to offer long-overdue raises. Despite a long battle with management, members won COLAs and retention bonuses for correctional officers in a tentative agreement with the State.

Citing financial uncertainty, the Hogan Administration claimed that increasing salaries for underpaid workers would negatively impact Maryland’s financial standing. However, an independent fact-finder examined the State’s finances and issued a recommendation calling for increased wages to retain and attract new workers. 

“When the State refuses to fairly compensate the workers responsible for carrying out essential services for our communities, it creates an environment for high turnover rates,” Council 3 President Patrick Moran said in response to Council 3's testimony. “Our members know better than anyone else the conditions and the dangers that result from understaffing. The report is a validation of their experiences – now it’s time for the State to act.”

Supporting New Hires, Retaining Qualified Staff

Moran said positions vacant positions should be filled immediately and that proper training and compensation should be offered to ensure new hires have the knowledge and support to succeed on the job. 

By attracting new hires and increasing stagnant salaries, the State can begin to address the staffing crisis and stop the cycle of new hires starting and then leaving for higher-paying jobs elsewhere, according to the Union’s legislative and political director, Sue Esty.

“Currently, new hires are hard to attract due to low salaries. When they do take the job, they are shocked by the workloads and dangers and are frequently leave,” Esty said. “With people leaving, the mandatory overtime and workload increase, which adds to the the problem for those that are left.  This is a cycle that needs to be broken.”