Category Archives: COVID-19

Crosstabs: Goucher College Poll on COVID

By Adam Pagnucco.

Part One of Goucher College’s latest poll of Marylanders is out and it asks several questions related to the COVID pandemic. The accompanying crosstabs spreadsheet is also available. Here are the results for all voters along with two crosstabs of interest to Seventh State readers: statewide Democrats and residents of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. (Because of the size and partisan nature of those two counties, there will be some overlap.) The margin of error is 3.8% for all voters and higher for subsamples.

Question: Do you [approve or disapprove] of how Governor Larry Hogan has handled the outbreak of the coronavirus in Maryland?

Answer from all voters

Disapprove: 21%
Approve: 77%
Sample size: 654

Answer from Democrats

Disapprove: 17%
Approve: 81%
Sample size: 351

Answer from MoCo/Prince George’s

Disapprove: 20%
Approve: 76%
Sample size: 232

Note: 32% of Republicans disapprove and 65% approve, so Hogan’s ratings on this question are better with Democrats than Republicans.

Question: Do you think Maryland is moving [too quickly or too slowly] to ease restrictions and reopen businesses, or has the pace been about right?

Answer from all voters

Too slowly: 25%
About right: 57%
Too quickly: 16%
Sample size: 654

Answer from Democrats

Too slowly: 13%
About right: 66%
Too quickly: 20%
Sample size: 351

Answer from MoCo/Prince George’s

Too slowly: 18%
About right: 64%
Too quickly: 16%
Sample size: 232

Question: Are public schools in your area moving [too quickly or too slowly] to reopen for in-person classroom instruction, or has the pace been about right?

Answer from all voters

Too slowly: 29%
About right: 36%
Too quickly: 31%
Sample size: 654

Answer from Democrats

Too slowly: 11%
About right: 41%
Too quickly: 43%
Sample size: 351

Answer from MoCo/Prince George’s

Too slowly: 19%
About right: 39%
Too quickly: 36%
Sample size: 232

Note: 65% of Republicans say the schools are reopening too slowly so there is a huge partisan difference on this question.

Question: Please tell me if you’ve experienced these feelings [more often, less often or about the same] as you did before the outbreak of the coronavirus last year… stressed.

Answer from all voters

Less often: 13%
About the same: 38%
More often: 49%
Sample size: 654

Answer from Democrats

Less often: 12%
About the same: 35%
More often: 53%
Sample size: 351

Answer from MoCo/Prince George’s

Less often: 15%
About the same: 30%
More often: 55%
Sample size: 232

Question: Please tell me if you’ve experienced these feelings [more often, less often or about the same] as you did before the outbreak of the coronavirus last year… frustrated.

Answer from all voters

Less often: 10%
About the same: 34%
More often: 55%
Sample size: 654

Answer from Democrats

Less often: 11%
About the same: 34%
More often: 55%
Sample size: 352

Answer from MoCo/Prince George’s

Less often: 10%
About the same: 34%
More often: 56%
Sample size: 233

Question: Please tell me if you’ve experienced these feelings [more often, less often or about the same] as you did before the outbreak of the coronavirus last year… angry.

Answer from all voters

Less often: 16%
About the same: 49%
More often: 34%
Sample size: 654

Answer from Democrats

Less often: 16%
About the same: 47%
More often: 36%
Sample size: 352

Answer from MoCo/Prince George’s

Less often: 15%
About the same: 49%
More often: 37%
Sample size: 232

Question: Please tell me if you’ve experienced these feelings [more often, less often or about the same] as you did before the outbreak of the coronavirus last year… sad.

Answer from all voters

Less often: 13%
About the same: 41%
More often: 45%
Sample size: 654

Answer from Democrats

Less often: 13%
About the same: 34%
More often: 53%
Sample size: 352

Answer from MoCo/Prince George’s

Less often: 13%
About the same: 36%
More often: 51%
Sample size: 233

Question: How concerned are you—[very, somewhat, a little, or not at all]—about yourself personally or a close family member getting the coronavirus?

Answer from all voters

Little/not at all: 28%
Very/somewhat: 71%
Sample size: 654

Answer from Democrats

Little/not at all: 17%
Very/somewhat: 82%
Sample size: 351

Answer from MoCo/Prince George’s

Little/not at all: 24%
Very/somewhat: 76%
Sample size: 232

Note: Among Republicans, 49% are a little or not at all concerned and 50% are very or somewhat concerned. Democrats are much more concerned about family members getting COVID than Republicans.

Question: When the Covid-19 vaccine is available to you, do you think you’ll get it as soon as you can, wait and see how it’s working before you get it, only get it if required, or are you definitely not going to get the Covid-19 vaccine?

Answer from all voters

Already received at least one dose / will get it as soon as they can: 67%
Wait and see how it’s working: 14%
Only get it if required / Will not get the vaccine: 18%
Sample size: 654

Answer from Democrats

Already received at least one dose / will get it as soon as they can: 71%
Wait and see how it’s working: 15%
Only get it if required / Will not get the vaccine: 13%
Sample size: 352

Answer from MoCo/Prince George’s

Already received at least one dose / will get it as soon as they can: 69%
Wait and see how it’s working: 18%
Only get it if required / Will not get the vaccine: 11%
Sample size: 232

Question: Overall, do you think the Maryland state government is doing a(n) [excellent, good, fair, or poor] job distributing the COVID-19 vaccine?

Answer from all voters

Poor / fair: 64%
Excellent / good: 33%
Sample size: 654

Answer from Democrats

Poor / fair: 62%
Excellent / good: 36%
Sample size: 351

Answer from MoCo/Prince George’s

Poor / fair: 72%
Excellent / good: 27%
Sample size: 232

Question: When do you think the country will get the outbreak under control and be able to return to normal: in the next month or two, by the summer, before the end of the year, later than this year, or never?

Answer from all voters

Next month or two / by the summer: 17%
Before the end of the year: 39%
Later than this year / never: 40%
Sample size: 654

Answer from Democrats

Next month or two / by the summer: 11%
Before the end of the year: 43%
Later than this year / never: 45%
Sample size: 351

Answer from MoCo/Prince George’s

Next month or two / by the summer: 11%
Before the end of the year: 44%
Later than this year / never: 43%
Sample size: 232

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Raskin, Trone Ask Hogan for Mass Vaccination Site in MoCo

By Adam Pagnucco.

Joining the Montgomery County Council and County Executive Marc Elrich, MoCo Congressmen Jamie Raskin and David Trone have asked Governor Larry Hogan to establish a mass vaccination site in the county. Elrich says the county can open one on its own right now, but there’s a problem: the county gets its vaccines from the state and Elrich doesn’t want vaccines for a mass site to count against the regular allotment the county health department receives. In the meantime, the state plans to open more mass vaccination sites in Southern Maryland, Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore while MoCo residents (at least the ones who drive) are flocking to the Six Flags site in Prince George’s County.

The mess seems unlikely to be meaningfully resolved until the overall supply of vaccines increases substantially.

The letter from Raskin and Trone appears below.

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Dear Governor Hogan and Acting Secretary Schrader:

We write to respectfully urge your support for locating a COVID-19 mass vaccination site in Montgomery County. As you know, Montgomery is the most populous county in our state and has experienced the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the state. Yet, despite Montgomery suffering the worst casualty rate in Maryland and despite having the second-highest number of cases in the state, it still has no mass vaccination site for its population of more than one million people. Of the six mass vaccination sites that will soon be operating across Maryland, not a single site is in Montgomery. Not surprisingly, Montgomery ranks 15th among all Maryland counties in percentage of its population vaccinated even though its County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has administered 87% of its allocated vaccines.

Beyond the sheer numbers of people involved, a mass vaccination site in Montgomery County would clearly promote your administration’s goal of ensuring equitable vaccine distribution to vulnerable communities. Montgomery has a majority-minority population and is the most diverse County in our state. Around 20% of residents are Hispanic, 19% are Black/African American, and 15% are Asian/Pacific Islander. Montgomery has a significant health care workforce and a substantial elderly population over the age of 75. These demographics present complex challenges for the local health department in vaccine distribution which could be successfully addressed with a local mass vaccine site.

Although you have emphasized that the mass vaccination sites in Baltimore and Prince George’s counties are open to Montgomery County residents, this offer seems like cold comfort when so many logistical hurdles face lower-income, working-class, immigrant, and senior residents in Montgomery who are unable to arrange transportation or get time off from work to travel to distant sites. These realities for tens of thousands of people make the suggestion of daytime travel to other parts of the state seem like wishful thinking. We urge you to work with Montgomery County officials and your team to provide a state-run mass vaccination site in Montgomery County.

If the Maryland Department of Health is unable to support another state-run mass vaccination site, we urge you to sufficiently increase the number of vaccines provided to the County to enable the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services to operate its own mass vaccination site. Moreover, as the state prepares to improve its equity framework in the coming weeks, we urge you to increase vaccine distribution efforts to better serve the diverse and vulnerable communities in Montgomery County. In Montgomery County, we know local leaders look forward to working with you to increase vaccine access and improve vaccine equity throughout the state. Thank you in advance for your consideration of this urgent and significant request. We are available to discuss it at your pleasure.

Very truly yours,

Congressman Jamie Raskin and Congressman David Trone

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Unholy Alliance: Labor and Business Team Up to Demand Vaccinations

By Adam Pagnucco.

SEIU Local 32BJ, which represents building service workers, and the Apartment and Office Building Association (AOBA), which represents owners and landlords, are often at odds. The union advocates for wage and benefit standards for its members and non-members alike while AOBA often pushes back on such measures over cost. But this time, the two combatants have joined forces to advocate for the workforce both depend on.

The union and the association have issued an unusual joint press release demanding that Maryland, D.C. and Virginia prioritize building service employees for vaccinations. They write: “Not only are frontline cleaners, building managers, engineers, maintenance and security personnel critical to keeping us safe and controlling the spread of COVID-19, but they are also getting sick and dying at vastly higher rates as a result. Because social distancing is often impossible for these at-risk workers who are servicing the properties, commercial and apartment tenants, university students, staff, and the public at airports, they are at a higher risk of contracting COVID.”

We love unholy alliances here at Seventh State! Their entire press release is reprinted below.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION: Julie Karant: jkarant@seiu32bj.org

32BJ SEIU and the Apartment and Office Building Association (AOBA) Urge Prioritization of At-Risk Frontline Property Services Workers for Vaccines to Expedite Region’s Reopening

“We applaud D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for leading the region by making at-risk frontline property service workers eligible for COVID vaccines a top priority, as this is an important first step to vaccinating all. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam should also be commended for allowing employers to register eligible employees for vaccines. We urge Maryland state officials to follow their responsible lead, and for the three jurisdictions to begin expediting access to vaccines for all frontline property service workers – the quicker that happens, the quicker our region can recover and reopen.

Not only are frontline cleaners, building managers, engineers, maintenance and security personnel critical to keeping us safe and controlling the spread of COVID-19, but they are also getting sick and dying at vastly higher rates as a result. Because social distancing is often impossible for these at-risk workers who are servicing the properties, commercial and apartment tenants, university students, staff, and the public at airports, they are at a higher risk of contracting COVID.

Just as the emptying of offices triggered a downward spiral for surrounding businesses, eateries and our economy, reversing that damage and spurring recovery requires getting people to come back. Yet, this process won’t begin until people are safe, and their safety is contingent on making frontline property service workers eligible for vaccination immediately. The case couldn’t be clearer or the need more urgent. We call upon the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia to prioritize vaccinating all of our frontline property service workers – a critical step to our region’s recovery and reopening.”

AOBA members are owners or managers of commercial and multifamily residential properties, as well as companies that provide products and services to the real estate industry. Currently, the combined portfolio of AOBA’s membership is approximately 185 million square feet of commercial office space and more than 350,000 residential units in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.

With more than 175,000 members in 11 states, including over 20,000 in the D.C. Area and Baltimore, MD, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.

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Top Seventh State Stories, February 2021

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in February ranked by page views.

1. Raskin Chief of Staff Writes About Attack on the Capitol
2. MoCo Solar Power Company Throws in the Towel
3. Is MoCo Ready to Reimagine the Police?
4. Once Again, Who’s the Boss?
5. State Legislators to Hogan: Send MoCo More Vaccines
6. Brandy’s Bonkers Bucks
7. What Climate Emergency?
8. Brandy Brooks is Back
9. Barve Warns Council on Solar
10. What Happened to White Flint?

The post about the Capitol insurrection by Julie Tagen, who is Congressman Jamie Raskin’s Chief of Staff, is the first one to lead our list two months in a row. After a strong run in January, this article took off again starting February 9 when Raskin told this story to the U.S. Senate in his opening argument at the impeachment trial. It remains one of the most riveting items we have ever posted on Seventh State.

The article about White Flint is the first item to appear on our list three months in a row. This one won’t go away. It’s about more than politics; it’s about whether our county can build appealing new communities that can compete with the rest of the region. There is a real hunger for that in MoCo and it will resume prominence after the COVID pandemic winds down.

Then there are the stories about solar in the agricultural reserve. They reveal a split not just among politicians but also inside the county’s environmental community. Some see environmentalism as concerned with the preservation of nature. Others see environmentalism’s biggest priority as preventing climate change from making Earth inhospitable to humans. Both sides are right, of course, but in the case of solar in the ag reserve, their short-term prescriptions for action were at odds. This is not the first sign of an enviro split in MoCo. The Sierra Club’s endorsement of Roger Berliner over Marc Elrich in the 2018 county executive primary was extremely controversial. We may be headed for more internal conflicts in the environmental community in the future.

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Elrich and Gayles Comment on MCPS Reopening

By Adam Pagnucco.

In the wake of MCEA’s resolution expressing no confidence in MCPS’s reopening plan, County Executive Marc Elrich and county health officer Travis Gayles were asked by the press today whether they agreed with MCEA or MCPS. Following is a transcription of their comments.

Question from Tom Fitzgerald, Fox 5 DC:

Question about schools. A lot of us got a news release yesterday from Montgomery County Education Association which says in part that they were passing a lack of confidence resolution. Quote: “The current MCPS plan to reopen school facilities cannot be successfully implemented, requiring more resources, more people, more space and more time and not negatively impacting students’ learning experience.” This is for Dr. Gayles and the county executive. Understanding what we just said about not wanting to open things up to have things rebound, I guess the simple question is are they right? Is the plan that’s been presented in a position to not be successfully implemented?

County health officer Travis Gayles:

I can speak from a health perspective. I’m not privy to those conversations between the union and MCPS and so forth. What I can say is this: is that the guidance that we have provided continues to be the same and is consistent with the metrics and measures that we put out in the fall using the state guidelines as well as the CDC guidelines in terms of metrics and markers where we thought it would be safe to come back related to test positivity and community transmission rate as evidenced by case rates.

And the numbers that we have are moving in that direction, which is favorable. What’s also different now than before, which again I continue to emphasize, is that we are seeing teachers and education staff get vaccinated and have access to that. I do think it is important for them to be able to have access to at least one shot before going back into the classroom. I know some may say that’s controversial given some of the CDC guidance but I do think we should continue to ensure that they have access to that as an added layer of protection when they go into the classroom.

Based upon… Dr. Stoddard and I, we meet regularly with our colleagues at MCPS, and based upon the tremendous amount of work that they have put into planning and coming up with different provisions and safety measures to put into the classrooms to mitigate transmission, we feel that they have done their due diligence in that and continue to refine. Though that said, I think if anyone should be concerned, going back into work for person-to-person, but we do feel that they have put a lot of effort in terms of coming up with different contingency plans and safety measures to mitigate transmission as much as possible. And we will certainly continue to… again, we don’t make those decisions, so again, for everybody at home, the health department does not make the decisions whether or not schools open, but we will continue to again monitor our guidance that we have provided to them based upon the surveillance information we have at hand.

County Executive Marc Elrich:

I haven’t read everything the school system’s proposed. I understand concerns about whether ventilation issues and other things have been adequately addressed, or how many people are going to be in a classroom because… as a former teacher, if I had the regular sized class in a regular sized classroom, I would never achieve the separation that people want. So I would want to look at how they are gonna deal with the number of kids who are brought back into classrooms.

And I think the big thing that gets lost in all of this is we talk about Montgomery County as if Montgomery County were all the same. And the truth is, and this is one reason why we’ve been focused on equity issues, there are parts of the county that do really, really well. I mean, our positivity and cases per hundred thousand is the total for the entire county – they are not evenly distributed across the county. You can look at zip codes, and we’ve got zip code maps, and you’ll see far more cases and far more apparent transmission per hundred thousand and you’ll see other zip codes where you don’t see many cases and you have, and you extrapolate much lower likelihood of transmission. So I understand that people would look at different neighborhoods and have different concerns about where you were teaching and what’s the environment and what’s the positivity rather than just looking at countywide numbers. I think there is something to be said for thinking about that.

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MCPS Responds to MCEA No Confidence Resolution

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Board of Education and Superintendent Jack Smith just released a statement responding to MCEA’s resolution of no confidence in MCPS’s reopening plan. Their statement is reprinted below.

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Statement from the Board of Education and Superintendent Jack R. Smith on The MCEA Resolution on MCPS’ Return-to-School Plan

February 17, 2021
Statement from the Board of Education:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been and continues to be a significant challenge for our public education system. As a system, we have worked collectively to meet the moment by being resilient and focused on serving our students. Given the challenges we have faced, and the challenges ahead of us, the Montgomery County Board of Education (Board) is deeply disappointed in the Montgomery County Education Association’s (MCEA) recent actions regarding school reopening. During the last 11 months, the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) administration has spent hundreds of hours engaging with MCEA leadership and reached tentative agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding on February 12. The Board believes in collaboration with all stakeholders, including our teachers’ union. However, collaboration does not supplant the singular responsibility and authority of the Board to make decisions about MCPS. The Board always welcomes feedback to enhance and improve our recovery plan, but we must work together constructively to ensure the best outcomes for all students, particularly during this pandemic.

The pandemic has strained us individually and as a community. There is no perfect plan and no decision without consequences. We will continue to review and adjust our strategies to fulfill our core mission of ensuring that every student will have the academic, creative problem solving, and social-emotional skills to be successful in college and career.”

Statement from Superintendent Jack R. Smith:

“Montgomery County Public Schools has developed a comprehensive recovery plan that prioritizes the safety of students and staff and the continued academic growth of all students. While we understand that staff may have some questions and concerns, these plans were developed with input from a diverse set of MCPS stakeholders and are reflective of the district’s commitment to fostering a partnership that benefits our students, staff and community.

I am deeply perplexed by the vote of no confidence from the teachers’ union, coming on the same day we released the joint Memorandum of Understanding. Our recovery plan and discussions with the association followed months of tremendous collaboration and interaction in development of this work. MCPS staff benchmarked with school districts across the state and nation for best practices and applied important guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and our state and local health officials. Physical distancing, face coverings, hand-washing, COVID-19 case tracking, testing and personal attestation will all be a part of the experience once students return to ensure safety for all.

We have worked diligently to ensure thorough mitigation protocols, personal protective equipment (PPE) and professional development are in place for staff to make in-person learning as safe as possible. We are focused on providing an equitable and high-quality instructional experience for all students, whether virtual or in-person. Many students and families are eagerly awaiting this return and school leaders and support professionals are committed to this.

We look forward to welcoming the first group of students back to our buildings on March 1 and March 15, and know that our staff is dedicated to meeting the needs of all our students. “

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MCEA Votes No Confidence in MCPS Reopening Plan

By Adam Pagnucco.

Minutes ago, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) released a statement that their worksite representatives had passed a resolution expressing “a lack of confidence” in MCPS’s reopening plan. Their statement and the text of the resolution appear below.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Contact on behalf of Montgomery County Education Association:
Kiwana Hall, Communications Director
khall@mceanea.org

Montgomery County Education Association Statement on Lack of Confidence Resolution

In response to the inadequacy of the reopening plan approved by the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education on February 9th, elected worksite representatives of the Montgomery County Education Association have overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating a lack of confidence in the plan developed under the leadership of and recommended by the Chief of Teaching, Learning, and Schools.

MCEA’s highest level decision-making body, the Representative Assembly, held an emergency meeting on February 15th to discuss the resolution. Over one thousand members and representatives attended. The full resolution is available here.

The current MCPS plan to reopen school facilities cannot be successfully implemented – requiring more resources, more people, and more space than is available – without negatively impacting students’ learning experience.

MCEA members demand that MCPS adhere to CDC guidelines regarding the physical reopening of school buildings, implement a contact tracing and testing program, and provide all employees the opportunity to be fully vaccinated before a return to in-person instruction.

The system must also develop a building reopening plan for the adequate staffing of all instructional models, particularly those that directly serve Black and Brown students, and students impacted by poverty, without diminishing access to staff and services that supplement required direct instruction.

MCEA cannot support the current plan, which will only increase inequity in Montgomery County schools. MCEA has requested a meeting with the Board of Education to discuss the MCPS reopening plan. MCEA urges the Board of Education to take the time to meet with educators.

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The text of MCEA’s resolution appears below.

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WHEREAS the safety and health of Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) employees and students is a priority in school system operations, and

WHEREAS the global pandemic of COVID-19 has impacted Montgomery County, Maryland with more than 61,000 cases and more than 1,350 deaths, and

WHEREAS a return to in-person instruction requires human and capital resources that significantly exceed those of a pre-COVID era, and

WHEREAS a return to in-person instruction requires a sustainable instructional model, which allows for all students to receive a free and appropriate education, and

WHEREAS the MCPS Chief of Teaching, Learning and Schools is responsible for the development of a coherent and effective plan for instruction, and

WHEREAS the plan approved by the MCPS Board of Education on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, cannot be implemented with existing resources, does not adequately protect the health and safety of employees and students, and diverts resources from Black and Brown children, and children impacted by poverty, the majority of whose families have indicated through the MCPS survey a preference for remaining in distance learning.

Therefore be it RESOLVED, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has no confidence in the plan developed under the leadership of and recommended by the Chief of Teaching, Learning and Schools.

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall provide the opportunity to all employees to be fully vaccinated prior to a return to school, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall develop and implement a coherent contact tracing and weekly diagnostic testing program in line with CDC guidelines prior to any return to worksites, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall transparently and robustly communicate to employees, families, and community information related to COVID-19 contraction and transmission at the classroom and worksite level, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall adequately staff all instructional models, particularly those which directly serve Black and, Brown students, and students impacted by poverty, without diminishment of access to staff and services that supplement required direct instruction, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA calls for the BOE to adhere to all CDC guidelines regarding the physical reopening of school buildings which includes but is not limited to mitigation measures, and phased-in reopening of schools based on the zone metrics (Blue, Yellow, Orange, Red), and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA calls for the BOE to adhere to CDC guidelines regarding the ventilation in worksites and environmental air quality of work sites. If any worksite does not have safe ventilation in all rooms, MCPS will install HEPA and other filters to block the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, MCPS shall release all test results for each worksite, office, and classroom to all stakeholders before requiring unit members to have to return to any worksites.

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Gino Celebrates Big Win on Pay

By Adam Pagnucco.

MCGEO President Gino Renne has sent out a blast email to his MoCo government members celebrating his new agreement on pay increases. Gino is right to celebrate because overall, both the COVID pay he negotiated and the new deal constitute a huge win for labor.

Let’s go back to May 2020. Facing a budget-ravaging pandemic, the county council voted down compensation increases contained in the collective bargaining agreements negotiated by MCGEO, the fire fighters and the police, the three unions who together represent MoCo employees. Those agreements contained $28 million in FY21 compensation increases, amounting to $38 million on an annualized basis. Labor was outraged and proceeded to picket the home of Council Member Hans Riemer, who was particularly vocal in abrogating the agreements.

But just a month before, the unions negotiated COVID pay agreements with County Executive Marc Elrich that provided far more than their abrogated contracts. The county eventually paid out more than $80 million in accordance with those agreements, greatly exceeding the $400,917 spent by Park and Planning and more than double the cost of the unions’ rejected contracts. And as the price for agreeing to let COVID pay end, Gino negotiated a 3.5% service increment, a 1.5% general wage adjustment and longevity pay which, on an annualized basis, should deliver tens of millions more for his members. Plus he can negotiate even more pay increases for FY22.

Gino and Marc Elrich in March 2017.

This was a master clinic on negotiating strategy, a colossal win for the unions and another story adding to Gino’s legend. We reprint his blast email below.

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From: UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO info@mcgeo.org
Subject: [External] Montgomery County Members | Breaking News – Local 1994, FOP 35, IAFF 1664 & County Executive Reach Agreement on FY 21 Compensation Package and COVID Differentials
Reply-To: info info@mcgeo.org

[Action Alert]

Breaking News – Local 1994, FOP 35, IAFF 1664 & County Executive Reach Agreement on FY 21 Compensation Package and COVID Differentials

The CARES act which provided funding for local government operations during the pandemic ended December 31, 2020. When the CARES act ended, the county became responsible for all costs, to include COVID differential pay. Since January 1, the County Council has insisted that our COVID differential pay end immediately and they planned to pass a resolution to end it this past week. The differential was bargained between Local 1994 and the County Executive for the additional risk assumed during the pandemic. The three county government unions, FOP Lodge 35, IAFF Local 1664 and Local 1994, engaged the County Executive and members of the Council to voice our concerns over their attempt to end COVID differential pay, and reminded them that increments and general wage adjustments were not funded for FY21.

After multiple meetings with the County Executive and members of the Council, we agreed to a FY21 GWA of 1.5% to begin in the last pay period of June 2021 and a service increment and longevity step to those eligible consistent with the MCGEO Collective Bargaining Agreement. The service and longevity increases will be effective April 11, 2021, for those who missed their increment or longevity step between July 1, 2020, and April 11, 2021. Members who are eligible between April 12 and June 30 will receive their FY21 increments and longevity step on the date due.

Now that the Council has assured the County Executive and the Unions that a GWA and increments will be funded before the end of the fiscal year, effective tomorrow (2/14/2021), the COVID differential pay will end. Although we know that the COVID differential was not nearly enough money to assume the risk of a deadly pandemic, it helped to make working in these conditions bearable. Understand, Montgomery County employees received the highest COVID differential pay in the DMV, if not the nation. Other local jurisdictions who provided a COVID hazard pay ended it months ago. 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.

As always, your best interests and the interests of your union brothers and sisters are paramount. Take care of one another.

In Solidarity,

Gino Renne

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Elrich Announces End to COVID Pay

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a blast email sent to county employees on Saturday night, County Executive Marc Elrich announced an end to the county’s COVID emergency pay program. The pay program, initiated in March of last year and providing some classifications of county employees an extra $3-10 per hour, was the most generous of its kind in the region and possibly one of the most generous in the nation. To illustrate its magnitude, Park and Planning – which has about one-ninth of the employees of county government – spent $400,917 on COVID pay while the county to date has spent more than $80 million. According to Elrich, the program will be replaced with a service increment (which in the past equated to a 3.5% increase for eligible employees), a longevity increase and a 1.5% general wage adjustment, both starting in the current fiscal year. That means most county employees will be receiving 5% raises with possibly more coming in the FY22 budget.

Elrich’s blast email is reprinted below.

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From: MCG.Postmaster MCG.Postmaster@montgomerycountymd.gov
Sent: Saturday, February 13, 2021
To: #MCG_All <#MCG_All@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Subject: A Message from the County Executive

Dear Montgomery County Government family,

I am inspired by the outstanding work of Montgomery County employees each and every day as we navigate the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 crisis. Countless dedicated County employees have risked their personal safety to continue to deliver the services necessary for our residents in response to the pandemic. In recognition of their work, the County has provided differential pay for all eligible County employees whose jobs have required in-person work. Because of the work and commitment of so many of you, we have been able to keep the county running throughout this pandemic.

Earlier today, my leadership team reached an agreement with our three employee bargaining units to restore some of the compensation increases that were not approved by the County Council last spring as the first wave of COVID hit our community. I am pleased to inform you that the agreement calls for service increments and longevity steps to start with the April 11th pay period. For all eligible employees whose anniversary dates were earlier in the fiscal year, their increments will begin with the April 11th pay period. The increase will not be retroactive. If your anniversary date is later in the fiscal year, the increment will begin during the appropriate later pay period. In addition, a 1.5% General Wage Adjustment for all employees, including unrepresented employees, will go into effect starting with the June 20th pay period. Finally, the agreement ends the hazard pay differential beginning tomorrow, February 14th. 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.

This agreement will need to be approved by the County Council before it is formally adopted, but I am confident the Councilmembers will swiftly act to approve this measured proposal. Thank you again for your commitment to the health and safety of our residents as well as your commitment to your colleagues. With this deal, we can focus our attention and resources on building a stronger, fairer, and more successful Montgomery County for all.

With gratitude for all you have done and continue to do.

Marc Elrich
Montgomery County Executive

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County Health Officer: It’s Not Fair That We’re a Punching Bag

By Adam Pagnucco.

In the wake of mass confusion, rampant rumors and frustration about vaccine availability, MoCo Health Officer Travis Gayles defended the county’s vaccine performance at a media briefing today. In evaluating what Gayles had to say, let’s remember a few salient points: there is a nationwide shortage of vaccines; the state allocates vaccines it receives from the federal government between county health departments, hospitals, pharmacies and other vaccinating entities; Montgomery County did not receive doses commensurate with its population as of late January; the counties do not have enough supplies to vaccinate everyone covered by the state’s current phases; and MoCo’s state legislators are demanding that the state do a better job. Neither Gayles nor anyone else in county government has control over these factors. Additionally, Gayles has been targeted by racist and homophobic attacks.

That said, Gayles is clearly fed up with the criticism directed at the county. Below is an excerpt from his remarks to the press.

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The other thing that I want to comment on, that I will say, that I will take a moment of personal privilege and professional privilege to address a couple of concerns. As a health officer, we have – and as a public health official – we have absorbed a lot of criticism, to put it mildly, in terms of our jobs and what we’re trying to execute and do. The health departments, particularly here in Maryland, have made great strides in terms of ensuring that our residents have access to timely information, when we find it out, as well as from all levels of the pandemic response from testing opportunities to now when we talk about vaccination, in helping provide guidance to our elected officials in terms of making other decisions related to business, to schools, etcetera. We’ve come under a lot of fire and we are a convenient punching bag, if you will, when things don’t go well.

But that’s not fair to us, and it’s not fair to the thousands of first-line responders who are part of health departments, who are working in our communities to stand up and make sure that our residents are safe. Now we have provided as much guidance to the state as we can, particularly as it relates to vaccine-related issues. We still do not find out our allotments until late. It’s Thursday afternoon and I can’t tell you how many doses that the health department in Montgomery County or any other venue in Montgomery County will receive for doses next week. That limits our ability to be able to consistently stand up clinics and provide timely information to you as our residents.

So we recognize your frustration because we share a lot of that frustration. We do know that the governor is having a press conference in about an hour and a half. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what those comments will be as unfortunately often-times health officers are not included in those conversations. So what I’m saying is we recognize your frustration as our residents and we’re doing everything we can to get information in a timely manner so that we can put it together in a comprehensive, cohesive manner to deliver you the services that you deserve as our residents of our jurisdiction. So while we continue to advocate on your behalf, we do hope that you remain patient with us as we continue to work with the resources that we have in order to put out a product that is worthy of being accepted and meets the needs of you as our residents.

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