Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade commissioners find new money for worker pay

Rebeca Sosa, chairwoman of the Miami-Dade commission, won approval Friday for a temporary pay boost for the county’s non-union workers.
Rebeca Sosa, chairwoman of the Miami-Dade commission, won approval Friday for a temporary pay boost for the county’s non-union workers. File

Eight days after approving the county budget, Miami-Dade commissioners and Mayor Carlos Gimenez found an additional $8.6 million to boost pay for about 2,000 workers and supervisors.

The revised pay plan for non-union workers was adopted the same day commissioners endorsed five union contracts that contain significant compensation increases for about 13,500 of the county’s 25,000 workers.

The non-union pool — which includes low-wage secretaries and deputy mayors earning six figures — were excluded from the $35 million package of union pay sweeteners, and Friday’s decision was aimed at trying to even the score before the next budget year begins Oct. 1.

“I don’t want us to have two separate classes of employees,” Commissioner Barbara Jordan said.

The decision suspends for one year a 5-percent payroll deduction imposed on all employees in 2010 as an austerity measure but lifted by commissioners in February over Gimenez’s veto. Gimenez had used his authority to reimpose it on employees not covered by union agreements, but on Friday backed halting the deduction at least through the fall of 2015.

While the payroll deduction offset the county’s healthcare expenses, it applied to all workers — even those who did not participate in the medical plan.

Rebeca Sosa, the commission chairwoman, offered the fix after a presentation by non-union county workers who pleaded for fairness ahead of the union-contract votes.

“No employee should continue suffering the majority of these cuts while the majority of the county workforce doesn’t have to,” said Arlice Larkin, a secretary with the police department earning about $45,000 a year. “It’s simply not fair.”

For the third time this budget season, Miami-Dade will use a one-time windfall from selling county helicopters to make up for an added cost — this time, the extra dollars needed to restore the non-union payroll deduction.

The mayor has already spared police jobs and the county’s Boot Camp program for young offenders by tapping into the expected $14 million boost from the fire department selling its rescue choppers and leasing new ones.

Commissioner Juan C. Zapata, the swing vote seven months ago in overturning Gimenez’s veto, called Friday’s 5-percent decision irresponsible, saying Gimenez should have extracted the money from the new union deals rather than tap a temporary revenue source.

“I’m not going to support Band-Aids,” said Zapata, the lone “no” vote against Sosa’s plan. “This is the exact route we’ve done in the past…We’ve done one-time money to do recurring expenses.”

Gimenez said Friday’s reprieve for non-union workers would need to end next year if the budget picture didn’t improve. “This is not a recurring expense,” Gimenez told Zapata.

The new union contracts mark the return of a slew of benefits suspended in 2011 under a three-year deal that Gimenez wrung from labor groups shortly after taking office. Those include stipends for healthcare, $50 bonuses per paycheck and extra pay for holidays.

In exchange, union leaders agreed to a redesigned health-care plan aimed at saving about $50 million next year. The offerings include increased premiums and co-pays for some medical plans, and a new, cheaper option with fewer providers.

To sweeten the deal, Gimenez agreed to cost-of-living raises for union workers that would only kick in during later years if property values exceed current forecasts.

The countywide and unincorporated tax rolls grew 12.3 percent this year, and would have to grow another 13 percent for two years straight before most union workers got a 1 percent raise in 2017. The 2017 raise would grow to 4 percent if the gains hit 16 percent in 2015 or 2016, according to a county memo outlining the proposal. (One union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 199, would be eligible for a raise as early 2016.)

County negotiators also secured a reduction to the number of full-time employees exempt from their work duties to be union representatives.

The Miami Herald found last year that 42 county employees, some of them in high-level positions, collected more than $2.65 million in public salaries to work full-time for their collective-bargaining units.

Gimenez vowed to fight for changes when the contracts came up for renewal this year, and county commissioners adopted legislation last September urging the administration to consider the issue in this year’s negotiations.

All five contracts dropped the number of exempt workers, known as “full-time releases.” AFSCME Local 199, the largest union, which represents general-government workers, will now have two exempt representatives, down from five.

The Government Supervisors Association of Florida OPEIU Local 100, which represents professionals and supervisors, will have two instead of four. Two other AFSCME units — Local 1542, which represents aviation employees, and Local 3292, which represents sanitation workers — each went down to two from three.

In addition to those reductions, the amount of pooled time all members can take off their duties to conduct union activities will be capped.

Unions representing police, fire, transit and sewer workers have not reached deals with Gimenez, and the mayor is predicting protracted talks.

Commissioners approved the five contracts Friday in a series of 7-3 votes, with Commisioners Lynda Bell and Esteban “Steve” Bovo joining Zapata on the opposing side.

“We really need to have more respect for our employees,” said Commissioner Dennis Moss, before voting with the majority. “Clearly, they’re well paid. But they do excellent work.”

Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.