BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The City Union of Baltimore says they are “baffled” by the mayor’s decision to layoff 63 Department of Public Works employees.

Mayor Jack Young made the announcement Wednesday as a part of his plan to improve the water meter reading operations and billing system. Young said they would be working with a third party vendor to do the meter readings.

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But the union says it was blindsided by the announcement.

“Our members provide a vital service to the city and we are blindsided by this decision,” the union said in a statement. “Ultimately, the decision invites more questions than it does provide answers.”

Officials said it would save the city $10 million a year.

During a virtual press conference Thursday, DPW Acting Director Matthew Garbark said the savings come from the layoffs of staff positions.

“We’re going to work with those affected employees to find other employment opportunities within the city,” Garbark said. 

In their statement, the union asked why members who were on leave on account of the coronavirus were not brought back to work with the necessary personal protective equipment to provide accurate and timely readings.

“Once health officials provided guidance as to how to resume some activities with precaution and safety, our members were ready to work,” the union continued. “However, this administration told our members to stand back and stand by while they went ahead with outsourcing our jobs. Jobs that contribute to the local economy and tax base.”

But Garbark said the employees had been home because the city had stopped any water shut off operations due to the pandemic.

“What we did was when the coronavirus hit, we suspended anything that required water being shut off even temporarily,” he said. “So this meant that we didn’t have a lot of work being performed when it came to meter installations or repairs or any of that. People were sent home to isolate because of the fear of the coronavirus.”

They said they are “amazed” the administration has the “audacity” to do this.

“To hear the mayor today suggest that privatizing a public service will result in “accurate and timely”
water bills is a shocking claim,” the union continued.

The union claims the mayor hasn’t shared accurate information with them about the city saving money by moving to the third party.

“Our union has a Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) request to get a clearer understanding of the ways the Mayor suggests this will save the city money. It is our belief, the financial information provided to us at this point is vague and doesn’t justify closing this unit.”

“Ultimately we stand with residents who want a fair and timely reading on their meters. We anticipate Democratic nominee for mayor and City Council President, Brandon Scott as well as City Council Labor Committee Chair Shannon Sneed will stand with us and reverse the privatization of public work that’ll do more economic damage to workers in Baltimore city.”

Customers in Baltimore County will see water bills by mid-November.

The new contract for city residents must still be approved by the Board of Estimates.

The mayor has yet to respond to the union’s claims.

Stetson Miller

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