Could the Jackson Health System have paved the way for Miami-Dade County commissioners to solve a months-long contract dispute between Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration and labor unions?
Two weeks ago, the public hospital announced that it had reached an agreement with its workers to phase out an unpopular concession that for four years has required most county employees to contribute 5 percent of their base pay toward group healthcare costs. Under the agreement, three percent would go away now, retroactive to Jan. 1, and the remaining 2 percent would disappear on Sept. 30, the end of the budget year.
On Tuesday, commissioners could decide to accept the deal for Jackson’s two unions — and perhaps to impose similar terms for the remaining five unions representing other county workers.
It will be the third time the contract impasses come before commissioners, who have twice voted to end the entire healthcare contribution at once. Both times, Gimenez has vetoed the decision, saying restoring employees’ full pay would create a mid-year, $56-million budget shortfall that could lead to service cuts and layoffs.
The board twice voted 8-5 to restore employees’ full pay. That’s one vote shy of the nine that would be needed to overturn the mayor’s veto, if all commissioners are present.
The mayor has not changed his tune, noting commissioners agreed with his recommendation last year to keep the property-tax rate flat. Property taxes are the main source of income for local government.
“This recommendation is not made lightly,” Gimenez wrote in a memo this week to commissioners. “The continuation of the five percent (5%) healthcare contribution will continue to have a financial impact on employees, but it is necessary in order to maintain the same service levels at our current projected revenues.”
But commissioners, who have not mustered enough votes to override Gimenez in the past, now have a template in front of them — the Jackson model — for how to force a potential compromise.
Restoring 3 percent of employees’ pay, retroactive to the beginning of the year, would result in a $34.4 million hit to the county budget, according to Gimenez’s administration.
The Public Health Trust that oversees the hospital system signed off last week on phasing out the healthcare contribution. A vote on an additional agreement — to award Jackson workers a one-time 3-percent bonus, so they could profit from the surplus the hospital posted last year — was postponed for a month.
Jackson Chief Executive Carlos Migoya came under fire from Gimenez for promoting the bonuses, which Migoya called “gain-sharing payments.” The mayor said it was disingenuous for employees to benefit three months after voters approved a tax-rate hike to pay for an $830 million bond program to fund Jackson improvements.
Gimenez also argued that the other county unions, though not part of Jackson, would expect bonuses as well. All seven unions signed a solidarity pact pledging to seek the same resolution to their contract disputes.
Only one union reached out to the county after the Jackson deal was announced, the Government Supervisors Association of Florida OPEIU Local 100, but it did not seek similar bonuses.
It did propose adopting Jackson’s phase-out plan, with a caveat. The union, which represents professionals and supervisors, asked that the county eliminate the full 5-percent contribution immediately for its members in the aviation and sanitation departments.
Late last year, commissioners did away with the healthcare contribution for rank-and-file workers in those departments. Miami-Dade has traditionally treated all workers the same.
“All we asked for was parity,” said Don Slesnick, the union’s attorney.
The county rejected the union’s request, Slesnick said, and offered phasing out the healthcare contribution — but not retroactive to Jan. 1. After the union said no, the county offered to make the phase-out retroactive. That is, it offered the Jackson deal.
Slesnick said the union turned that down, too, to try its chances at Tuesday’s commission meeting.
“Tomorrow morning we’ll show up,” he said, “and we’ll get what we’ll get.”