A Miami-Dade commissioner began a push Monday to have the county end its practice of excusing dozens of public employees from their work duties to serve as full-time labor union representatives.
Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, citing a Miami Herald report, has sponsored legislation directing county administrators who must renegotiate union contracts next year to eliminate or reduce the number of exempt employees.
The Herald reported last month that 42 employees who have collected more than $2.65 million in salaries so far this year work full-time for their unions and cannot be fired from their county jobs.
“Shouldn’t employees that are doing the union work be paid by the union to do their work?” Bovo asked at a commission meeting Monday. “Why does the taxpayer have to front that bill?”
His legislation will be heard for the first time Tuesday at a finance committee meeting.
One of Bovo’s former colleagues in the Florida Legislature, Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera, first noted he could not fire one of his employees who wasn’t showing up to work because he was a union rep. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 199, which represents the employee in question, said reps are needed to resolve personnel matters and ensure fair treatment for workers.
Bovo brought up the issue Monday at an informal commission discussion — without public input — on the proposed 2013-14 budget, which the board must approve after two formal public hearings next month. Funded by a flat property-tax rate, the budget as drafted will require steep service cuts and more than 200 employee layoffs.
After the Herald report was published in July, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he would bring up the employee exemptions during negotiations with the county’s 10 bargaining units.
The union talks are already bound to be thorny: Miami-Dade is at an impasse with labor over Gimenez’s position that the county continue to require employees to contribute 5 percent of their base pay toward group healthcare costs. Commissioners must resolve that matter Thursday.
If Monday was any indication, commissioners are either saving their remarks on the healthcare contribution until later in the week or they’re not intending to force Gimenez’s administration to restore employees’ pay.
Only a couple of the 10 of 13 commissioners present at the meeting Monday brought up ending the concession as planned in January 2014.
“These employees have given and given and given,” Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said. “I don’t think they can give any more.”
The mayor said the general fund cannot afford the $37 million it would take to do away with the healthcare giveback and other union concessions.
“We’re not asking our employees to give any more — not one cent more — but by the same token, we shouldn’t be giving them more right now, because the situation is what it is,” he said.
Commissioners raised other concerns about Gimenez’s latest budget plan, issued late Friday, which would keep all public libraries open but with less than two-thirds of their staff and open only about three-quarters of the hours currently offered. In all, 169 library workers would be laid off.