Miami-Dade’s largest coalition of labor unions has endorsed Raquel Regalado in her challenge of county Mayor Carlos Gimenez, with the South Florida AFL-CIO knocking the incumbent for his effort to hire for-profit companies to run government services and facilities.
“To public-sector unions, Gimenez has consistently said he wants to privatize government,” said Cynthia Hernández, spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO, an umbrella group that includes all county unions except for the ones representing fire and police employees. “We’ve seen departments that are under-staffed and not functioning well.”
The endorsement gives Regalado, a two-term school board member, the backing of the political apparatus behind Miami-Dade’s largest labor group about two months before the Aug. 30 nonpartisan primary that could decide the mayoral contest. “With 60 days till Election Day, this unified endorsement affirms the viability of my candidacy by those most impacted by who is Mayor of Miami-Dade County,” Regalado said in a statement.
Gimenez, who came to office in 2011 championing a tax cut that helped lead to a string of austerity budgets, was an underdog for winning the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, which represents county unions that have battled the mayor’ administration on contract concessions and spending cuts. But his camp hoped to keep the coalition group neutral in the mayor’s race, and then try for endorsements from individual unions seen as more favorable to Gimenez.
“I didn’t think they were going to endorse anyone,” Gimenez said Thursday. “I’ll get the endorsement of other unions.”
Gimenez said he was notified by leadership of three union chapters in the AFL-CIO coalition that he would still receive their individual endorsements. Those unions belong to AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and represent county workers in the sanitation department and Miami International Airport, as well as a more generic labor category known as “general.” AFSCME president Se’Adoreia Brown confirmed the endorsements Thursday, releasing a brief letter to Gimenez from the three chapters announcing their support for his reelection.
As mayor, Gimenez has been a champion of privatization efforts known as “public-private partnerships,” which typically have the government paying for-profit companies to build and operate government facilities, such as rail lines, courthouses or sewer plants. At a September 2015 forum on “P3” ventures, Gimenez told the crowd: “It used to be Miami-Dade wanted to operate everything … I don’t want to operate anything.”
The AFL-CIO endorsement came thanks to heavy Regalado support from the county’s teachers union, along with Miami-Dade unions representing transit and water-and-sewer workers, Hernández said. The Regalado backing foiled an effort by Andy Madtes, president of the South Florida AFL-CIO and an Gimenez backer, to keep the group neutral. The organization’s executive board voted earlier Wednesday not to endorse in the mayoral race, but was overridden in a floor vote, Hernández said.
The South Florida AFL-CIO represents about 120,000 union members in Miami-Dade, including skilled construction and manufacturing workers in the private sector. It announced the Regalado endorsement Wednesday night, along with backing of three of the four Miami-Dade commissioners facing challengers: Audrey Edmonson, Dennis Moss and Xavier Suarez. The fourth, Juan C. Zapata, did not attend Wednesday’s candidate screening and the AFL-CIO did not take a position in the race, Hernández said. Also no-shows were Zapata’s two challengers: Joe Martinez, a former chairman of the Miami-Dade commission now running for his old District 11 seat, and newcomer Felix Lorenzo.
Edmonson’s challenger, former El Portal Mayor Daisy Black, collapsed during her AFL-CIO interview Wednesday and later died, leaving the District 3 commissioner with no challenger.
In the mayoral race, the endorsement of Gimenez’s main challenger comes as his administration prepares a budget with a 4 percent cost-of-living raise for thousands of unionized workers. Gimenez offered the raises as part of the contract deals that half of the county’s 10 unions accepted in 2014 on the heels of a budget cycle that had the mayor’s administration initially asking for steep union pay cuts before offering more generous terms.
The raises would only be triggered by property-tax values exceeding budgeted targets, which they did in the preliminary assessment report issued June 1. The final report is due Friday.
The Gimenez administration has announced a new labor deal with the two bargaining units in the county’s police union, and a similar agreement with the fire union is reportedly close. That leaves the unions representing Water and Sewer workers, and Transit workers, as the main hold-outs going into the nonpartisan Aug. 30 primary.