Florida's Supreme Court gave a big win to Miami-Dade labor unions this week when it declined to review an appeals decision that stripped Mayor Carlos Gimenez of his veto power when it comes to resolving impasses in contract disputes.
The county’s police union sued over a 2012 veto by Gimenez that rejected a County Commission-backed deal dropping a pay concession that the mayor wanted in the union's three-year contract. The veto sent the contract back to commissioners, who ultimately approved a short-lived pay deduction that lowered the county's healthcare expenses.
Union lawyers argued Florida law only gives the legislative branch authority to resolve impasses between unions and the administration of a local government. The First District Court of Appeal agreed in a February decision, and this week the state’s highest court declined to review the case.
“The impact of this ruling will be felt statewide as it dictates the procedures for fair resolution of labor disputes and guards against the abuse of power,” said John Rivera, president of the local Police Benevolent Association, which is the county’s police union. “It’s not only a win for Miami-Dade County employees, it’s a win for all employees across the state.”
The Gimenez administration is still negotiating three-year contracts with four unions representing almost half of the county’s unionized workforce.
Rivera said the union will press state labor regulators to force Miami-Dade to refund union members the 4 percent pay deduction imposed for two years after Gimenez’s veto. Commissioners voted to lift the deduction in 2014, and mustered the nine votes needed to override the mayor’s veto of the decision.
The Supreme Court’s action promises to complicate labor talks for the Gimenez administration, which still is negotiating with four unions over three-year contracts that technically expired in October 2014. The unions, represented by five bargaining units, account for 46 percent of the county’s 24,500 employees covered by labor agreements. Still awaiting deals are unions representing firefighters, police, transit workers and water-and-sewer employees.
“We’re still talking,” said Al Cruz, head of the firefighters union. He said an impasse isn’t out of the question. “If we get to that point, then we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”
Thanks to the ruling, unions only need seven votes on the 13-member commission to approve contract provisions that the administration otherwise declines to recommend. With Gimenez’s veto power in place, the union needed nine votes — enough to override a mayor’s veto should the commission approve terms unacceptable to Gimenez.
Michael Hernández, Gimenez’s spokesman, declined to comment on the ruling, which offered no explanation for the court declining to take the case.