2021 | Government

Elrich, unions end COVID-19 hazard pay

New agreement could give raises to county employees

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After pressure from the Montgomery County Council to end COVID-19 hazard pay or create a plan to funding it, County Executive Marc Elrich and three unions have agreed to end the differential pay.

Extra hazard pay went to county employees who had to work with the public during the pandemic, such as administering COVID-19 tests or vaccines. The pay began in early April and by mid-January, the county had spent $77.7 million.

Employees who had direct contact with the public were given an extra $10 per hour. Those working in an office, not near the public, could receive an additional $3 per hour.

Elrich negotiated with three labor unions and announced the new agreement on Saturday in an email to county employees.

The agreement would also restore some of the compensation increases that the council didn’t approve in the spring.

Beginning with the April 11 pay period, eligible employees would receive service increments and longevity steps. Any eligible employees whose anniversary dates were earlier in the fiscal year would have the increments begin in the same pay period. The increase would not be retroactive.

“In addition a 1.5% General Wage Adjustment for all employees, including unrepresented employees, will go into effect starting with the June 20 pay period. … While this is short notice for this change in current policy, this deal provides every employee with the certainty of a permanent adjustment to their salaries,” Elrich wrote.

The council will have to approve the agreement before it is finalized. The majority of the council previously voted against pay raises for the fiscal year in May because of expected revenue shortfalls.

The council voted 7-2 to forgo pay raises with then-Council Vice President Tom Hucker and Council Member Will Jawando voting against the motions, indicating that they wanted to accept the renegotiated contracts and give raises to both union and nonunion employees.

They said frontline employees deserved pay raises for their service during the pandemic.

The council has held several closed meetings on the bargaining of the agreement in the last two weeks.

Elrich wrote in the email that he is “confident the Councilmembers will swiftly act to approve this measured proposal.”

Adam Pagnucco first reported on the end of hazard pay in a column on Seventh State.

Gino Renne, president of the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization, wrote in an email to union members that the county’s employees received the highest hazard pay in the region.

“Other local jurisdictions who provided a COVID hazard pay ended it months ago,” he wrote. “In the event a new stimulus package includes money for a hazard pay, we will be back to the bargaining table with the executive on your behalf.”

In November, county officials said they were seeking repayment of about $100,000 in hazard pay after some permitting employees improperly claimed COVID-19 hazard pay for ineligible work.

The issue was detailed in a report released by the county’s Office of the Inspector General, which investigated the county’s Department of Permitting Services management for allowing inspectors to receive the extra pay for time they worked in the office and at home.

Permitting employees were found to be overpaid between March 29 and Aug. 29. About half of the inspectors consistently claimed 80 hours of time working with the public for each pay period.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.