After a day of hearing from public workers having trouble making ends meet, Miami-Dade commissioners decided Thursday to end a contentious concession from employees — but only for those who help pick up the county’s garbage.
Most of the rest of the nearly 26,000 employees will be forced to keep contributing 5 percent of their base pay toward group healthcare costs. And they all will have to continue making a slew of other benefit concessions.
Commissioners made the exception after hearing from emotional solid-waste workers from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3292, which has 637 members. Several of the workers wept as they recounted facing home foreclosures and other financial strife.
One employee said he had to choose this month between paying his mortgage or buying school clothes for his daughters.
“Let us live like human beings and not scavengers,” said a teary Stefanie Brown, a garbage-truck driver and union secretary. County records show she makes nearly $56,000 a year.
The public works and waste management department will have to find $1.1 million in its proposed budget of about $577 million for 2013-14 to restore workers’ pay. One of the commission’s conditions was that no additional employees be laid off.
While garbage-pickup fees won’t go up next year, in the long term they could rise more quickly than the county expected as a result of eliminating the healthcare contribution.
The aviation department, which runs Miami International Airport, will also have to find $1.7 million in its nearly $900 million budget to restore pay for its workers. The aviation union has a provision in its contract automatically granting its workers that benefit if any other county union receives it.
Both the waste management and aviation departments are paid for by fees they generate for their services, so the money to restore employees’ pay won’t affect the general fund that pays for the county’s day-to-day operations.
But now, Miami-Dade’s remaining seven collective-bargaining units will get a chance to ask in January that their pay be restored as well — setting off what some commissioners worried will be a cascading hit on the budget. (Firefighters are exempt from the 5 percent hit because they have their own health insurance.)
The government is not required to give all unions the same benefit, though “that has certainly been the tradition in the county,” said Lee Kraftchick, an assistant county attorney who handles labor matters.
Commissioners said they expect every other bargaining unit to clamor for equal treatment — which would cost the county $22 million from the general fund.
“We don’t have to give the other unions what we have to give this particular union,” Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said.
Commissioners voted 8-4 to restore solid-waste employees’ pay. Vice Chairwoman Lynda Bell and Commissioners Edmonson, Bruno Barreiro, Sally Heyman, Barbara Jordan, Dennis Moss, Jean Monestime and Xavier Suarez voted in favor. Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa and Commissioners Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Javier Souto and Juan C. Zapata voted against.
Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz was absent from the meeting because he was hospitalized with a back injury.