Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade mayor loses veto power in union stand-offs

Mayor Carlos Gimenez in a file photo from July 2014.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez in a file photo from July 2014. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

A state appeals court on Thursday struck down Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s ability to veto resolutions of stalled labor talks, removing a key piece of leverage as the mayor tries to conclude protracted negotiations with four unions.

The First District Court of Appeal sided with the county’s police union in challenging Gimenez’s 2012 veto of a county commission vote that resolved an impasse between his administration and the labor group. The vote in question saw commissioners approve a contract without a payroll deduction the mayor wanted, but Gimenez vetoed the decision.

Thursday’s decision invalidated a power that county attorneys and a state labor board said Gimenez possessed. He wielded it during a string of labor impasses as he pursued concessions between 2012-14 from the politically powerful unions that represent most of Miami-Dade’s 25,000 full-time workers. If it stands, the ruling appears to leave unions needing to win a simple majority vote on the 13-member commission for future labor deals, rather than the nine votes needed to overturn a mayoral veto.

“The county will appeal the ruling,” Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández said Thursday evening.

In a statement, police union president John Rivera said the ruling could mean refunds for county employees for payroll deductions that wouldn’t have existed if the commission’s original vote was left intact. “The Mayor’s bad faith bargaining has created a situation that could cost the county more than 10 million dollars,” said Rivera, president of the Police Benevolent Association.

When labor talks stall, the county commission ultimately can resolve an official impasse with a vote. And while the mayor can normally veto commission votes, union lawyers argued that impasse decisions should be exempt since Florida law empowers legislators to resolve disputes between unions and the executive branch. Thursday’s decision sided with the union’s interpretation.

State law “clearly and unambiguously contemplates that the impasse will be resolved exclusively by the legislative body,” the three-judge panel wrote in the decision. The decision asks a state board to determine what sanction Miami-Dade should face for the improper veto, which the appeals court determined was an unfair labor practice.

The ruling could be a significant factor for the Gimenez administration as it attempts to resolve stalled labor talks with unions representing police, fire, water-and-sewer, and transit employees. The labor groups represent about half of the county’s unionized workforce, and they didn’t agree to new three-year contracts by the time the old ones expired Oct. 1. Miami-Dade’s other unions did, so these deals are the most contentious.

Labor leaders also can count on a more accommodating county commission, with the arrival of union-backed Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava.

The original dispute arrived in the early months of the Gimenez administration, as he negotiated new three-year labor deals with millions of dollars’ worth of concessions to fund the tax cut he championed as a candidate. The police union objected to a 5 percent payroll deduction designed to reduce county healthcare expenses. Unable to reach a deal, the impasse went to the commission.

Commissioners voted not to require the deduction. Gimenez vetoed that vote, and commissioners later compromised by approving a 4 percent deduction.

Commissioners later voted to lift healthcare deductions for all unionized workers. Gimenez vetoed the resolutions providing the paycheck relief, but in February 2014 nine commissioners voted to override the mayor’s vetoes.