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Maryland public sector unions share COVID-era concerns with lawmakers

Ongoing health conditions, employee recruitment and retiree benefits were among some of the labor-related issues Maryland public sector unions brought before lawmakers at a recent committee meeting.

The Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Pensions’ meeting delved into a number of labor-related issues, including matters facing various unions at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic continues to loom and hiring remains a challenge.

Samantha Zwerling, organizational specialist with the Maryland State Education Association, was among the union representatives who spoke last week to the committee. She said retirements and resignations continue to rise in school districts across the state.

“This is a continuing trend, and we’re trying to dig into that more,” Zwerling said.

In her testimony to lawmakers, Zwerling said there are a number of plausible reasons for stability within a school’s teaching roster, including the impact it has on staff morale and the overall student environment.

Zwerling implored lawmakers to consider a number of policy considerations, including a potential partial retirement option that would give teachers nearing the end of their careers the opportunity to work part-time and continue earning a reduced salary while dually receiving partial retirement payments.

Lance Kilpatrick, legislative and political director with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council No. 3 also spoke to the panel.

Employees represented by the state-level AFSCME organization have been impacted with a range of physical conditions from COVID-19, Kilpatrick said, including ongoing respiratory conditions, brain fog and similar conditions.

While Kilpatrick said AFSCME is appreciative for the financial support the state offered at the height of the pandemic, he indicated the organization will be calling for further assistance, including disability assistance from long-term impacts for workers who contracted the coronavirus.

“We have ongoing COVID-19 concerns,” Kilpatrick said. “We want to work with (lawmakers) on something that is fair and equitable, moving forward.”

Other union representatives who spoke to the panel included David Lewis, vice president of the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance, and Rosemary Wertz, field coordinator with AFT Healthcare-Maryland. Their concerns touched on the disbursement of retirement benefits and recruitment and retention efforts.

State pension systems on track to reach full funding in 2039

The Joint Committee on Pensions also heard a report on 2021 actuarial valuation and upcoming contribution rates from hired consultants with GRS Actuarial Consulting.

GRS has been tracking the vesting progress of the state’s various pension systems. The 2039 target has held steady in recent years, though there have been recent indications specific benchmarks could be reached sooner than anticipated.

“It hasn’t changed in the last five years,” Brad Armstrong, senior consultant with GRS, said of the 2039 target. “What has changed is the state systems are projected to reach 80% by 2023, due to the favorable experience.”

Big picture, Armstrong said several factors are in play for the long-term prognosis. For example, downward pressure on contribution rates into the pension systems is expected through 2027, because of deferred asset gains.

This article was originally posted on Maryland public sector unions share COVID-era concerns with lawmakers

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