Miami-Dade County

Miami’s city, unions at odds over contracts heading into budget hearings

On the day Miami’s Fraternal Order of Police announced that its lawsuit over the city’s deep, recession-era pay and pension cuts had been taken up by the Florida Supreme Court, union leaders on Thursday also announced their intention to protest the city’s upcoming $500 million annual spending plan unless more of that money goes into their members’ pockets.

Sgt. Javier Ortiz, the union’s president, vowed to disrupt the city’s September budget hearings after a fruitless negotiating session with city administrators. His pledge signals a likely increase in pressure from the city’s unions, all of which are negotiating new contracts with the expectation of pay bumps now that the city has money to work with.

“We’ve got some surprises lined up for them,” Ortiz said outside City Hall.

City Manager Daniel Alfonso has proposed using renewed streams of property tax revenues to replenish the city’s depleted reserves, hiring more officers, and spending an extra $5 million on all employees next year. He warns that being overly generous in 2015 with pay perks, coupled with the City Commission’s apparent desire to budget for 100 more cops, could put the city in a precarious position in future years.

“What I’m concerned about is the future of the city and how we balance future budgets,” Alfonso said.

But Miami’s unions say the city balanced its books on their backs during the recession, and had promised to make them whole when things got better. They say they are not proposing anything that would break the bank.

“Five million for all the employees is pretty ridiculous considering what the budget is,” said firefighter union president Robert Suarez.

Miami’s police union and the city administration are split over how to restore pay to the levels of 2009, before the City Commission slashed pay and benefits that, due to poor planning and a plummeting economy, proved far too rich for what taxpayers could afford. Facing gaping budget holes, commissioners repeatedly declared financial urgency and unilaterally slashed union deals — the subject of the police union’s ongoing lawsuit.

Alfonso proposed spending $4.6 million more on payroll the next two years to boost salaries, an expense offset somewhat by an increase in pension payments from most police officers. The union says the city has enough money to bring them closer to their 2009 pay in the first year of the new contract and include “step” raises that reward officers for their years of experience.

The two sides are expected to sit down again next week. The city’s first budget hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sept. 9. The new budget year begins Oct. 1.