A Circuit Court judge has ruled that the city of Hialeah must compensate hundreds of employees for back wages and furloughs and also restore their benefits in a case that has been battled in court since 2010.
That year, then Mayor Julio Robaina and municipal council members approved a reduction of 8 percent in the salaries of employees, plus 7 percent cuts in mandatory unpaid leave; and they froze pay increases to reduce budget expenditures. The moves were part of the city’s effort to save about $1.8 million in salary cuts to help close a gap of about $6 million in its 2010 budget.
But union leaders from the local 161 American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents Hialeah’s general employees, decided to fight the measure, claiming it was illegal because the city implemented the contract without reaching an agreement during contract negotiations.
First they took the complaint before the state’s Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC), which ruled in favor of the employees and the union. Hialeah appealed the ruling before the Third District Court of Appeal, and a judge also ruled in favor of restoring employee benefits.
Now Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court Judge Bronwyn C. Miller has ruled that the city of Hialeah should “rescind” the stipulations of 2010 contract with employees and restore benefits at the level they were before that year. On Tuesday, a spokesman said the city plans to appeal the decision again.
“ We do not believe that this decision is correct,” Arnie Alonso, chief of staff of Mayor Carlos Hernandez, said in an email. “The City of Hialeah has and continues to explore all legal options available; including appeal to a higher court.”
David Alonso, vice president of AFSCME in Hialeah, criticized the city’s position.
“To what extent will they continue to appeal when they have already lost five times in three different courts?” asked Alonso. “We are talking about a serious damage that should be repaired without giving excuses. Many employees had many financial problems, had to make changes in their health insurance to keep their relatives insured, have had to take and repay loans and things have been difficult for them.”
Just how much the city owes employees is unclear , since the amount has increased over the past five years. Some of the affected employees have retired. The union must now find an independent group to calculate the amount of money that each affected employee is due, Alonso said.
Eric Johnson, vice president of the Hialeah Fire Department union who has followed the case closely, said that Miller’s ruling was a “great victory” for municipal employees and residents.
“The City thinks they can appeal, but they cannot appeal, this went through the courts and the city has been ordered to pay several times,” Johnson said. “This is also a victory for the taxpayers of Hialeah who will not have to keep footing the bill for the legal fees”.
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