Surrounded by union workers in Baltimore on Saturday, Gov. Wes Moore and Mayor Brandon Scott pledged to refill the ranks of government employees.
Although they stressed the importance of hiring workers to fulfill necessary jobs, from picking up trash to guarding prisoners, they offered little evidence of the progress they’re making.
“You know, from as early as my inaugural address, from as early as my first State of the State, we talked about this idea that service is going to save us,” Moore, a Democrat, said outside a union office in southwest Baltimore where several city and state agencies were participating in a hiring fair.
Moore, who took office in January, pledged from the outset to fill at least 5,000 of the estimated 10,000 vacant jobs across state agencies. Moore and others have blamed the prior governor, Republican Larry Hogan, for allowing vacancies to grow over his eight years in office. The result, the governor and unions have said, is a diminished level of service to state residents.
In an interview after the event, Moore declined to say how much progress his state agencies are making toward the goal of hiring 5,000 state workers.
“We’re not there yet, but we’re making great progress,” Moore said. When pressed by a reporter for a specific number, Moore repeated: “We’re not there yet, but we’re making great progress.”
In his public remarks, Moore touted the raises he agreed to give to union workers and his push to raise the minimum wage for all workers to $15 on Jan. 1.
And Moore said that “we’re removing a barrier in many jobs, an artificial barrier, that somehow thinks you need a four-year degree in order to be economically competitive” — an idea that was first championed by Hogan, who struck degree requirements from many state job applications.
Scott also stressed the importance of hiring workers for important government jobs, from waste collection to recreation programming.
“I’m here to tell anybody that’s listening that the city is hiring and we’re not going to stop hiring anytime soon,” said Scott, a Democrat.
Asked later to describe the scope of vacancies in the city, Scott estimated there are “thousands” of jobs that need to be filled. He said the city is regularly holding hiring events to drum up applicants. The mayor did not have a figure available on the number of recent municipal hires.
Moore and Scott held a brief meeting Saturday morning with members and leaders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents government workers throughout the state. AFSCME’s national president, Lee Saunders, was in town for the final stop on a multicity “staff the front lines” publicity blitz.
Many of Saunders’ stops coincided with job fairs and hiring events, including the one in Baltimore that was put together on short notice and attracted about 100 people in the first hour, a combination of current union members looking for new opportunities and job seekers from outside government.
Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3, said having the mayor and governor recognize the importance of state workers is a solid first step, especially after eight contentious years with Hogan.
“First and foremost, they’ve acknowledged there’s a problem,” Moran told reporters. “The previous administration refused to even acknowledge there was a problem, right? They denied it. We proved over and over again there was.”
Even with a better relationship with the new governor, Moran said, there’s room for improvement: reworking salary scales, improving benefits, better advertising openings internally.
And job seekers must fill out different applications and forms at each agency, a process that could be standardized through a common application for many jobs, Moran said.
“We believe there’s progress that’s going to be made,” Moran said. “It’s going to take some time, though.”