Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade mayor slams Jackson hospital in veto over workers’ pay

 

pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com

In an unexpected slam at the Jackson Health System, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez criticized the public hospital Friday for agreeing to give its employees a generous bonus, as he once again vetoed county commissioners’ move to restore union workers’ pay.

The mayor’s harsh words toward Jackson could make it more difficult, or at least more uncomfortable politically, to resolve ongoing contract disputes with seven labor unions. Both employees and commissioners have said they would like all unions to be treated the same.

Despite his veto, Gimenez indicated that he’s willing to compromise with commissioners, who had voted to no longer require most employees to contribute 5 percent of their base pay toward group healthcare costs. The contribution, in place for four years, had been scheduled to expire Jan. 1.

The veto paves the way for Jackson unions, the Public Health Trust and commissioners to approve tentative agreements Jackson reached this week with its two unions, which are among the seven at impasse with the county over the healthcare contribution.

The agreements would phase out the contribution, with 3 percent going away now and the remaining 2 percent on Sept. 30. That’s the potential compromise Gimenez said he and Jackson Chief Executive Carlos Migoya discussed last week before the commission vote.

What they did not talk about, according to Gimenez, was something else Migoya agreed to: giving eligible Jackson workers a one-time 3 percent bonus.

“There’s no way that we can replicate that here on our end,” Gimenez told the Herald late Friday after signing his veto, in which he suggested Jackson can ill-afford its bonus “gain-sharing payments.”

In a statement to the newspaper, Migoya said that while he respects Gimenez’s concern for the hospital system’s finances, agreeing to the bonus payments “reflects the business principles I learned during more than 40 years as a banking leader.”

“After eliminating automatic raises at Jackson for four years, we need to ensure we’re taking the right steps to recruit and retain the best medical professionals in the industry,” Migoya said. “Moreover, it’s common for successful enterprises — even those still in the midst of a financial turnaround — to use gain-sharing programs like this: they help motivate employees, build mutual trust, and keep each individual engaged in the system’s big-picture strategy.”

In his five-page veto message, Gimenez wrote that he was “stunned” Jackson agreed to the bonus. Migoya sent the mayor a letter on Dec. 11 saying the hospital network has 28 days of cash on hand. That’s less than the 175-day threshold set by similar institutions.

Gimenez also referred to the $830 million bond program voters approved last November to fund Jackson upgrades.

“It is unfathomable that given this long-term financial commitment by the taxpayers,” Gimenez wrote, “that JHS would use surplus monies to give bonuses, instead of continuing to build their cash on hand, or invest in much-needed infrastructure and capital.”

Migoya countered that he repeatedly said he would share any better-than-expected profits with employees. Jackson beat its $35 million surplus projection in 2013 and will still have a surplus of nearly $45 million after the bonuses, Migoya wrote.

“Our team is responsible for saving lives and building wellness across Miami-Dade County,” he said, “and we think this is an important way to strengthen that team.”

With the unions signing a solidarity pact pledging to stand united during the contract impasses, the mayor said he worries members from the other five labor groups will expect a compromise with a similar bonus.

He signaled, however, that gradually eliminating the healthcare contribution by Sept. 30 could be a resolution that his administration, which has been fighting to keep the entire contribution in place, is willing to accept.

“I understand the 5 percent and the phase-out. We talked about that,” Gimenez said.

Commissioners voted 8-5 last week to do away with the contribution altogether. They had voted the exact same way last month. Gimenez vetoed that action as well.

When 13 commissioners are present, nine are required to override a mayoral veto.

Though the board appeared prepared to compromise Jan. 16, Commissioner Barbara Jordan called a vote to restore workers’ full pay before any potential settlements were formally proposed.

As part of the vote, commissioners said the county should fund the restoration of workers’ pay by tapping its self-insurance trust fund — even if it means dropping the fund below a threshold to cover 60 days’ worth of health-insurance claims.

Union leaders have argued for months that the county needs to meet only a 30-day threshold. State insurance regulators ask for 60 days, though it’s not required by law.

In the past, Florida has asked other governments that can’t meet that mark to certify they have enough reserves elsewhere in the budget to make up the difference. Gimenez and Ed Marquez, deputy mayor for finance, have said they are unwilling to make such a guarantee.

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