Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Friday vetoed county commissioners’ decision to restore sanitation workers’ pay, meaning they will have to keep paying 5 percent of their salary toward healthcare costs unless the commission overrides his veto.
In his veto message, Gimenez said giving workers back the 5 percent will set a “dangerous precedent” for other unions. Seven additional collective-bargaining units have hit an impasse with the county over the healthcare contribution.
The mayor also noted that ending the concession for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3292 would create a disparity between the 634 union members and the rest of the more than 1,700 employees in the public works and waste management department who belong to another union or to none at all.
“I am moved by the personal stories of financial challenges that our employees face,” Gimenez wrote, referring to the emotional testimony delivered last week by solid-waste workers, who said they are among the county’s lowest paid. “Unfortunately, those economic struggles are shared by countless families throughout our community.”
Last week, during a tense County Hall meeting in which union workers begged commissioners for their support and told stories of hungry family members and unpaid bills, the commission voted 8-4 to let sanitation union workers reclaim the 5 percent contribution.
Vice Chairwoman Lynda Bell and Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Audrey Edmonson, Sally Heyman, Barbara Jordan, Dennis Moss, Jean Monestime and Xavier Suarez voted in the union’s favor.
Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa and Commissioners Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Javier Souto and Juan C. Zapata voted against the measure, while Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz was absent.
News of the mayor’s decision Friday came as a shock to union members, who thought they won their battle after last week’s vote.
“Right now I’m just trying to process this,” union vice president Marcellous Stringer said.
“I thought we were through with this, and obviously, we’re not.”
Gimenez called the veto more about sending a message to the commission and the county’s other unions than about reclaiming $1.1 million from sanitation workers.
“Setting up two different classes of employees — we can’t have that with the seven other unions coming forward. It will lead to severe cuts and layoffs,” the mayor told the Miami Herald in an interview.
The veto will also affect unionized aviation workers, who would have benefited from the pay restoration to the solid-waste union. A provision in the aviation union’s contract automatically grants its workers the pay restoration if any other of the county’s 10 bargaining units receives it.
The commission will have to once again take up the issue at its next meeting. A two-thirds majority — nine of 13 commissioners — is required to override the veto.
Gimenez said after the Aug. 29 meeting that he had to weigh his options before making up his mind on a veto.
Friday, Gimenez said if he had not vetoed the decision, the 13-member commission would have had a hard time denying the other unions the same concession.
“This is more about precedent-setting. This was a clear message to the commission against giving back the 5 percent,” he said.
Ending the concession as originally planned on Jan. 1, 2014, would have required the waste management department to come up with $1.1 million in its $577 million budget for 2013-14.
The aviation department would have had to find $1.7 million out of its nearly $900 million budget.
Both departments are funded by fees generated for their services, so the changes would not affect Miami-Dade’s general fund for day-to-day operations.
But that approach to budgeting is precarious, Gimenez wrote, because self-sustaining departments sometimes also struggle to balance their budgets.
He noted that the library and fire-rescue departments face layoffs and service cuts in the coming year in part because they are funded from taxes separate from the general fund.
“As Mayor, I must always consider what I believe is best for our entire community, not just County employees,” he wrote.
In addition, Gimenez emphasized that the pay restoration would not differentiate between a solid-waste union member making $23,700 and one making $58,600 — and presumably having an easier time making ends meet.
Chairwoman Sosa, one of the four “no” votes last week, supported the mayor’s decision, saying she was concerned about sending a mixed message.
“I’m sticking with what I said publicly. Either we give to all, or we give to none of them,” she said.
Heyman, who voted in favor of the union last week, said she was surprised by the mayor’s decision. She said the collectively bargained contracts with the unions, which expire next year, all vary in benefits and concessions.
‘not all equal’
“I think each one should be weighed on its own,” she said. “And I don’t think it sets a bad precedent. They’re not all equal anyway.”
Commissioners overrode Gimenez’s most recent veto, in March, regarding a contract to wrap baggage at Miami International Airport. The mayor struck down the vote despite the commission’s veto-proof majority, which quickly dismissed Gimenez’s action.
But earlier vetoes, in January 2012, stood. Instead of trying to override Gimenez, the board reconsidered its decision against imposing an additional healthcare concession.