Forward progress: Miami-Dade may see outstanding union contracts in month
By Risa Polansky
As a $36.85 million deficit in the year that began Oct. 1 keeps growing, it seems Miami-Dade and its unions are making progress in settling contracts that would allow the county to begin paying the salaries and benefits it budgeted for, ending months of hemorrhaging as many employees continue to collect last year's higher pay.
Outstanding contracts could be before the commission in about a month.
If the unions and administration can agree to terms on their own, it's up to commissioners to simply ratify the proposed deals.
In those cases where the county and its labor groups can't settle, commissioners act as judge and jury, though the unions from there must vote to ratify.
The commission in October made the call for three unions — solid waste, aviation and general employees — offering a 5% pay cut or the equivalent in holiday pay.
Only solid waste ratified the decision, choosing a holiday pay cut.
Now, the county is offering the aviation union a third alternative: putting 5% of base pay toward group health insurance costs.
The union is to vote today (12/17).
It seems the health insurance alternative is also on the table for the general employee union.
"We have received conceptually from the county the possibility," but not the official proposed contract language, Alma Gonzalez, who represents the union, said Tuesday.
Before making judgment, "we're just waiting for a clear black and white…. It's a work in progress and we're optimistic that we'll be able to put something in front of our membership in January."
Mark Deutsch, the county's chief negotiator through the collective bargaining process, did not return a call.
His office referred inquiries to county spokesman Victoria Mallette, who said via e-mail "until the proposals come before the [commission] and/or receive ratification from the bargaining units, all we are talking about are ideas being floated."
But a Dec. 10 e-mail to the aviation union affirms there's a new option on the table.
"This proposal represents an alternative method of securing the necessary wage adjustment for fiscal year 2009-10," Mr. Deutsch wrote. "It provides that all employees in bargaining unit classifications contribute five percent of base wages toward the cost of coverage for group health insurance."
And it's legal for the solid waste union, which already chose the holiday pay option, to attempt to partake instead in the new arrangement, said Lee Kraftchick, chief of the county attorney's Employment Discrimination & Labor Section.
"Though neither party is required to reopen [negotiations], they can if it's in their mutual best interest," he said.
Some of the county's remaining seven unions had elected to take their cases to special magistrates for advisory opinions before heading to the county commission.
But slowly, several have decided to waive that extra step, and as of late last week, the last of the unions with plans to see a magistrate — water and sewer — agreed instead to work directly with the county, Mr. Kraftchick said.
He expects contracts could come to the commission in mid-January.
As impasses drag on, the county is spending every two-week pay period about $6.85 million more than planned.
That number was once $8 million until Mayor Carlos Alvarez in late October imposed a 5% pay cut on the non-union employees he oversees, taking bi-weekly losses down to about $7 million.
Solidifying the solid waste unions' contract took the number down to today's $6.85 million.
Total lost so far: about $36.85 million and counting.
County administrators are crafting a budget "Plan B" to deal with the deficit.
There's no set date for release yet, budget chief Jennifer Glazer-Moon said.
But "believe me, we're working on it."