Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade County reaches tentative deal with one labor union

Miami-Dade County has reached a tentative agreement with one of its employee unions, both sides announced Tuesday, in the first sign that the government might be able to avoid a protracted fight over new labor contracts.

Greg Blackman, president of the Government Supervisors Association of Florida OPEIU Local 100, said he shook hands with Mayor Carlos Gimenez late Monday over the principles of the three-year deal. Union members still have to sign off on the changes, hammered out over three negotiating sessions.

Pay perks that workers gave up in 2011 would be restored — including a salary bump for those who work nights — and union members could receive a cost-of-living increase in 2017 if property values rise more than projected over the next two years.

“Basically we got everything back that we had before,” said Blackman, whose two collective-bargaining units represent some 4,200 professional and supervisory workers.

In return, the union agreed to a more restrictive employee health-insurance plan. If all of the county’s 10 bargaining units adopt the new plan, Miami-Dade administrators say they would save $50 million in the $4.5 billion 2014-15 operating budget — and avoid all police layoffs.

In a statement, Gimenez called accepting the insurance changes “the responsible course to take because it maintains excellent health coverage for our employees, while reducing the cost of doing business for our government.”

He characterized tying cost-of-living increases to the tax roll — local government’s primary source of funding — as a way to ensure the county can afford raises.

“It is an innovative way to responsibly manage our future employee costs,” he said.

Miami-Dade has projected a 6 percent annual tax-roll increase over the next two years. Anything over that cumulative 12 percent would be shared with employees, under the tentative deal.

Early talks between the county and the union had not gone well, but Blackman said the tenor of the discussions improved when Gimenez dropped his attempt to continue with concessions that workers made three years ago.

Those benefits were scheduled to “snap back” to workers with the coming budget year Oct. 1, but the mayor initially wanted to extend them another three years. Among them: an extra $50 in each paycheck (known as “premium pay”) additional pay for working holidays (which employees are already paid for) known as “holiday premium pay,” and money to offset health-insurance costs, known as “flex pay.”

With negotiations stalling, Gimenez decided to let the issue go — a position that meant there would be some cuts and layoffs in the coming year. But his administration hoped it would also bring union leaders to the table. At least for some bargaining units, it did.

The largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 199, signaled last week that it would be willing to accept the health-insurance plan changes if Miami-Dade found some way to consider cost-of-living raises in 2016 or 2017.

Now that the county has offered linking the increases to tax-roll growth to one union, it’s likely Miami-Dade negotiators will present the same proposal to the other bargaining units.

The redesigned healthcare coverage would make it more affordable for workers to insure their spouses and children under a limited plan with about 70 percent of the doctors in the existing plan. Employees who choose to keep their more-generous coverage would have to pay a premium, under a middle-of-the-road plan, or pay a higher premium than they already do, under a top-level plan.

Those premium increases have some county commissioners worried about costs to workers. At a budget discussion Monday, Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa called the potential expense for some employees “incredible.”