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Hurricane memo powers a storm
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published May 24, 2007
Pasco County School Superintendent Heather Fiorentino sent the memo to school employees.
LAND O'LAKES - Before Pasco County's school employees left for summer break Wednesday afternoon, superintendent Heather Fiorentino wanted to be sure they knew she might need them over the summer.
So Fiorentino sent out a memo reminding them that, in the event of a hurricane or other emergency, they could be called into service at the evacuation shelters that the district operates.
"We've always had significant volunteers," Fiorentino said, noting she hoped not to have to press anyone into action. "It's just, they need to know what the law is."
Florida statutes require school districts to supply facilities and "necessary personnel to staff such facilities" for emergencies.
Before Fiorentino's missive arrived, though, almost everyone knew what she wanted. And they weren't too thrilled.
The United School Employees of Pasco, which got a heads-up from the administration days earlier, had sent out an alert to its building representatives saying that it was ready to file an unfair labor practice charge against Fiorentino if she made such a "unilateral change in the terms and conditions of employment."
"Our employees are not the chattel of the school district," union president Lynne Webb said. "They cannot institute such a change without negotiating it."
The alert prompted several calls and letters to the union headquarters. Webb would not release the contents, but said many employees raised concerns about what would happen if they did not respond to the superintendent's call.
Some of the 10-month employees had elderly parents or young children to care for, while others had businesses they tend to over the summer. Many said the notice was a "disincentive," Webb said. "Instead of ending the year on a high note ... they're ending the year with a lot of stress and anxiety," Webb said.
Fiorentino expressed disappointment with the union for worrying employees with its alert, rather than working with the administration to let workers know of their statutory responsibility in a calm way. She said the first draft of the memo, which she saw after the union leadership got it, needed rewording and the union should have waited to see the final, less-threatening version before jumping to action.
"I'm just trying to be honest about it," Fiorentino said. "They've now tried to ruin the end of the school year by upsetting the staff."
Right back at you, Webb responded. "The union objects to any of its members being forced to be on call without the district first negotiating," she said, after hearing Fiorentino's reaction. "The superintendent has created an issue where there didn't need to be one."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614.