Miami-Dade County

Florida Supreme Court hears arguments in case between Miami and police

The fate of a labor dispute that could cripple the city of Miami’s financial standing is now in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, attorneys representing the city and the Fraternal Order of Police argued their case before the state’s high court, which is weighing whether the city commission improperly forced steep concessions on its employees during a financial crisis in the fall of 2010.

Facing a $100 million budget hole at the time, Miami commissioners utilized a state “financial urgency” law that allows municipalities to reopen union contracts and make unilateral changes. The police union sued, saying that the city failed to prove it was required to reopen its labor agreements and ignored other solutions to the crisis, choosing instead to slash employees’ compensation while simultaneously cutting the property-tax rate.

“If you’re saying I’ve got no other source to get money, but then for political reasons you get less revenue, well, that’s like quitting your job to get less money to avoid paying someone else,” said FOP attorney Robert Klausner.

The case, Headley v. City of Miami, was accepted by the Florida Supreme Court after the city’s police union filed an unfair labor practice and then appealed to the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee when the Public Employees Relations Commission sided with the city. The FOP lost that case on appeal, but the city of Hollywood’s fire union won a case over the same issue heard by the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

With two conflicting appeal court opinions, the state supreme court will try to sort out when and how a municipality can declare financial urgency. Meanwhile, the city of Hollywood and a Naples area fire district will be watching, with their own legal cases pending. The city of Miami is also in litigation with its fire union over financial-urgency cuts.

The stakes are high for the city, with police wage and benefit cuts alone having saved about $100 million since 2010, according to City Manager Daniel Alfonso. The city’s annual budget is about $550 million.

The FOP has asked the court to overturn the contract changes to where they were before the city forced cuts.