Sheriff, union not budging in wage dispute
Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 7:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 7:05 p.m.
Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell says she wants to give all her employees a 3 percent wage increase to offset their state-mandated pension contributions — but those represented by unions will have to wait longer to get it.
Jeff McAdams, a Gainesville police officer who represents sheriff's deputies and county jail corrections officers as president of Fraternal Order of Police Gator Lodge 67, says he believes Darnell is using the 3 percent increase as a bargaining chip in negotiations.
"I'm just beside myself that she would do that to her employees," he said.
Darnell already has extended the pay bump, which she calls a readjustment since it isn't a true raise, to staff who are not represented by the Fraternal Order of Police or Police Benevolent Association.
They also will receive a lump-sum restoration payment to reimburse them for the mandatory contributions they have made to the Florida Retirement System since July 2011.
The Alachua County Commission this month decided to extend the wage increase and lump-sum payment to all county employees, and Darnell quickly followed suit.
The pay bump will cover the public employees' mandatory pension contributions, which the Florida Supreme Court upheld in a January ruling.
Darnell said she will reopen negotiations with the PBA as well as the FOP-represented deputies in order to extend the offers to them.
She also said she can't offer the extra money to or negotiate with the FOP-represented corrections officers because they have been at an FOP-initiated impasse since September 2012.
McAdams contends the sheriff could unilaterally do so for both FOP's deputies and corrections officers without negotiation.
In a March 15 letter to Darnell, he wrote that he is waiving the FOP's right to bargain in this matter so members can receive the pay bump quickly.
He said Darnell is using the wage increase as a bargaining chip to reopen negotiations over the deputies' contract. While he said he is willing to negotiate, he doesn't think the discussion should be tied to the 3 percent increase. He said using that as leverage is "atrocious."
"The County Commission did not intend any strings to be attached to that money," he said.
Darnell said she can bypass negotiations to offer bargaining-unit employees a benefit with the approval of the FOP's McAdams and PBA President Brandon Kutner, a sergeant with the Sheriff's Office.
But she cautioned it should be done rarely because doing it repeatedly negates the purpose of the union.
"It's called collective bargaining for a reason, and he represents the collective group. And if I just negotiate with him, then it erodes the whole concept of bargaining," she said of McAdams.
She said that last year, she unilaterally extended a vacation buy-back offer and longevity option, which provides monetary awards for varying years of service, to PBA-represented lieutenants and FOP-represented deputies after securing memorandums of agreement from McAdams and Kutner.
She did not do this for the FOP's corrections officers because they still were negotiating their contract.
She said her legal counsel advised her not to do the same with this issue because it could put her at risk for a labor violation.
She said she wants to give PBA employees and FOP deputies the pay bump and lump-sum payment as quickly as possible, which requires meeting to discuss it.
The longer it takes to meet, the longer it will take to secure those items for bargaining-unit workers, she said.
While McAdams said he has agreed to meet on March 28 as suggested by the Sheriff's Office, Darnell said she hasn't received a confirmation from him that he is willing to meet on that date.
"So right now, he's the holdup," she said of McAdams.
Kutner already has confirmed the PBA will attend an April 4 meeting on the issue.
McAdams also argues that Darnell can offer the pay increase and lump-sum payment to not only FOP deputies but also to FOP corrections officers.
In a March 12 memo from Darnell to Sheriff's Office personnel, she wrote that she is prohibited from granting those to FOP corrections officers because they are currently at an impasse but would propose the raises after the impasse issues are resolved.
"I am outraged at that because that is absolutely incorrect," McAdams said.
Both sides are waiting for a special magistrate's decision following a Feb. 5 hearing on the issue.
"As much as I want to, I can't," she said. "An impasse is a pretty rigid situation."
Although bargaining-unit employees won't receive the pay increase as quickly as non-bargaining staff members will, Darnell said she plans to implement any wage increase retroactively to ensure all employees ultimately receive the same benefit from it.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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