Sheriff's Office, union OK new longevity-based contract
Published: Friday, February 28, 2014 at 7:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 28, 2014 at 7:09 p.m.
The Alachua County Sheriff's Office, after negotiations with its union, has thrown out a prior classification system for its deputies to reward them based on longevity instead of qualifications.
The deputies voted to switch representation from the Fraternal Order of Police to the Police Benevolent Association in December, after which the PBA entered into negotiations with the Sheriff's Office. They previously had switched from the PBA to the FOP in 2011.
Negotiations began in January, and the new contract was cemented this week following ratification by the deputies, said Brandon Kutner, president of the North Central Florida Chapter of the PBA. Both the deputies' contract and a recently approved one for the PBA-represented sergeants and lieutenants will be in effect until the end of 2016.
The elimination of a prior classification system in favor of a new, longevity-centric system was the major change in the deputies' contract.
Under the old contract, deputies could ascend a ranking system with levels for Deputy I, II and III based on their qualifications. Ascending to a higher classification came with a raise.
To move up in rank, deputies had to work in different sections of the Sheriff's Office for a certain period of time, including uniformed patrol, another bureau such as court security and a special team such as the SWAT unit, although they could serve on a special team while concurrently working in another sector.
A deputy who enjoyed working in a specific bureau had to switch roles at some point in order to qualify for moving up a level, which meant the Sheriff's Office also had to train his or her replacement.
But the new contract eliminates the previous classification system and instead will provide longevity-based raises of roughly 2.5 percent per year of completed service, Kutner said. Now, deputies who love their jobs can stay in those positions but still be rewarded for the experience they've gained over the years, while the agency will have lower training costs.
"It's a win-win. I think it's a win-win for everybody. It's a win for deputies, it's a win for the administration, and it's a win for taxpayers," Kutner said.
Turnover at the Sheriff's Office has been high among deputies for years, mostly because of pay issues, Kutner said. Almost 45 percent of the agency's deputies have less than five years of experience working there.
The new system is cost-neutral. Moving to Deputy II usually meant a 5-percent raise, but this new system provides smaller raises more often because it has amortized the funding over a 20-year period. The top-out pay for deputies also decreased to $59,150 under the new system to help make this plan cost-neutral, but the previous top-out level was practically unreachable, Kutner said.
Sheriff's Office spokesman Art Forgey agreed the new contract was a win-win.
"Well if you get a guy that's a bang-up homicide detective and he's great at that, and we've invested thousands of dollars in training him, then when he moves on to, say, a different division, then we lose out there," Forgey said of the old system.
Under their new contract, sergeants and lieutenants at the Sheriff's Office still will get a pay increase when they're promoted to those supervisory positions, but they also will get annual longevity raises.
Under the previous system, freshly promoted sergeants were making the same as people who had been sergeants for five or six years, Forgey said.
To finance the new pay system for deputies and supervisory employees, several positions were eliminated, Forgey said, but there were no layoffs. He said he believes the agency can continue to fund raises under this new system for the foreseeable future.
The deputies' decision to switch from the FOP back to the PBA happened, Kutner said, because the FOP hadn't been able to follow through on promises for raises and other pursuits.
The deputies changed to the FOP back in 2011 because the PBA had been unable to rectify several contract issues since the county didn't have the money at the time, Kutner said.
Jeff McAdams, second vice president for the state FOP, said the deputies switched to the FOP because they felt they weren't properly represented by the PBA on certain issues.
But he said he had trouble developing a rapport with Sheriff Sadie Darnell and her agency, which impacted negotiations.
"The issue is that the relationship between the FOP and the sheriff never developed like we wanted it to," he said. "But you know what, I hold no ill will with the deputies at all because I've always wanted what's best for them."
The FOP still represents jail officers with the Sheriff's Office as well as members of the Alachua and Gainesville police departments.
Forgey pointed out the sheriff isn't on the agency's negotiating team, although she does have to approve the contracts.
"They were looking for too much, in my opinion, and there was no headway being made," he said of negotiations with the FOP on behalf of the deputies.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or email@example.com.
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