Saturday, April 21, 2018
News Roundup

Pasco County, union remain far apart on contract talks

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County and the union representing 1,130 workers remain far apart in contract negotiations to replace an agreement that expired more than six months ago.

There was little progress at an April 10 bargaining session — the first since January — though the two sides said they would meet again May 25. It was one of the few agreements in an hour-long meeting that began with a nearly 10-minute debate over the employee disciplinary provisions contained in a contract approved four years ago.

The previous contract expired Sept. 30, and negotiations between the county and Teamsters Local 79 began in June 2017. Pay raises and calculating seniority remain key stumbling blocks, though the two sides also disagree on disbursing overtime, calculating paid time off and other issues.

Last fall, commissioners approved the 2017-18 budget with 4 percent raises for employees. The county is proposing a 2 percent cost of living adjustment and a second 2 percent based on merit. Retroactive pay would be provided in lump sum $850 payments to each employee. The union proposed annual 4-percent across-the-board increases for the current year and for the 2019 and 2020 budgets, as well as retroactive pay calculated on the individual worker’s salary.

"Why don’t they give the employes what they deserve?’’ asked Doug Hecht of Teamsters Local 79.

The proposed merit pay, a plan used for other county employees, perpetuates favoritism, the union has argued.

"It rewards employee/supervisor relationships (a/k/a "good ole boy network") rather than giving fair raises to everyone. This is a major reason the union was organized at Pasco County in the first place, to stop this sort of unfair conduct,’’ John Sholtes, Teamsters Local 79 business agent said via email before last week’s negotiations.

County workers voted to unionize in 2010 amid lay-offs triggered by budgets that were constrained by dwindling property tax revenue from voter-approved tax exemptions and the bursting real estate bubble.

Prolonged negotiations are nothing new. The two sides didn’t reach an agreement on their first contract until 2014 after more than three years of bargaining, two declared impasses and arguments before special magistrates.

In late March, Pasco’s Human Resources Director Barbara Hitzemann briefed commissioners on the current negotiations, including the disagreement over wages. By law, the county cannot give raises to unionized employees until a contract is ratified.

"The money is there. We did our part here. It is unfortunate the raises are sitting there, and they cannot get it,’’ said Commissioner Mike Moore.

Employee relations could emerge as a campaign issue in the 2018 election in which Moore and Commission Chairman Mike Wells Jr. face re-election.

Their respective Democratic opponents, Brandi Geoit and Kelly Smith, were the only members of the public, besides a journalist, to attend the latest bargaining session.

The union endorsed Geoit’s candidacy and rallied with her and Democratic Party representatives in a March 29 demonstration for county rank-and-file workers.

Though the union bargains on behalf of 1,130 employees, its dues-paying members total 230 county workers, said Hitzemann. The staff covered by the contract includes librarians, bus drivers, emergency dispatchers and workers in fleet maintenance, utilities and elsewhere.

Reach C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813)435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2

RELATED: Tentative contract reached.

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