Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade commissioners override mayor’s veto on garbage workers’ pay

A bare-bones Miami-Dade County Commission on Tuesday overturned Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s latest veto, upholding its earlier decision to restore sanitation workers’ docked pay.

Without discussion, the commission — with only seven of 13 members present — voted 5-2 to override the veto, with Commissioners Audrey Edmonson, Sally Heyman, Barbara Jordan, Jean Monestime and Xavier Suarez on the prevailing side. Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa and Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo were in the minority.

Joyous members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 3292, which represents employees who pick up garbage, waved their hands in support while the vote was held. Outside the commission chambers, they hugged and high-fived each other to celebrate their victory.

“We’re ecstatic,” said a beaming Joel Hernandez, the labor union’s president.

AFSCME Local 3292’s 634 members will no longer have to contribute 5 percent of their base pay toward group healthcare costs, amounting to a raise once the change goes into effect. The union, once it ratifies the commission’s decision, will become the first of the county’s nine collective-bargaining units to end the contentious pay concession.

Another unit, representing aviation workers, will receive the same benefit, thanks to a contract provision allowing it to piggyback on any other union that gets its pay restored.

The concession will continue for the seven remaining units — for now. Those unions are expected to hit an impasse with the county in January over the 5-percent contribution. A 10th union, representing firefighters, is exempt from the giveback because it has its own healthcare program.

The contribution, which began nearly four years ago, was scheduled to end Jan. 1, 2014. Saying the county cannot afford to restore the pay for most of its 26,000 affected employees, Gimenez wanted to extend the concession another year.

Gimenez cited setting a precedent as one of the reasons he vetoed the commission’s Aug. 29 decision.

“We can absolutely not afford to restore that 5 percent” for all workers, he said after Tuesday’s vote. “If they do, it means dipping into reserves, which I’m vehemently against, or laying off employees.”

He said he hoped the commission would stand firm against ending the concession for the other unions. Had a full board been present Tuesday, the mayor said the vote might have gone differently.

“There are a lot of people missing from the dais that I think would have upheld the veto,” Gimenez said.

Six of 13 commissioners were absent. That meant only five — two-thirds of those present — were required to dismiss the veto. A typical override with a full board requires nine votes against the mayor, a much more difficult threshold to meet.

Political maneuvering on the dais could have forced a delay or made it easier to re-take the vote later. But no commissioner took those steps. Gimenez didn’t speak.

Vice Chairwoman Lynda Bell, who was out of town on a previously scheduled trip, and Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, who was undergoing a medical procedure for a serious back injury, were absent. Commissioner Juan C. Zapata was running late. And Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Dennis Moss and Javier Souto took their seats shortly after the veto vote.

After the 11 commissioners were assembled, Sosa tried to get them to reconsider the override. But that would have required one of the five commissioners on the winning side to ask for a new vote. None did.

Restoring sanitation workers’ pay will cost the public works and waste management department about $1.1 million from its $577 million budget for next year. It will cost the aviation department about $1.7 million from its nearly $900 million budget.

Both are self-sustaining departments funded out of fees they charge for their services, so restoring the pay would not affect the county’s general fund.

But that’s not the case for unions whose impasses are still looming, Gimenez said.

“This is not over,” he said.