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County employees' union could affect local elections
By JEFF WEBB, Editor of Editorials
Published December 16, 2007
Is anyone really surprised that Hernando County Commission employees are considering forming a union?
They became unavoidable casualties in the tax revolters' assault on the commission earlier this year. After all, critics of wasteful government spending couldn't very well make their point without including the single largest line item in the budget - personnel. Consequently, employees were lumped into the category of redundant, and had to endure repeated mischaracterizations that they were incompetent, lazy and overpaid.
So, when it came time for the commission to hold the line on spending, one of the first places it looked was its employees. This year's pay raises would be just 3 percent, the commissioners decided. But even that wasn't enough to satisfy the fiscal fascists, who have vowed to punish the commissioners' benevolence - well, at least some commissioners' - and expand this government-bashing scheme next year.
It wasn't long after that some county employees started looking at unionizing. First they turned to the Fraternal Order of Police. The Sheriff's Office deputies who belong to that union received better raises. As a matter of fact, so did all the other government employees in the county who belong to a union: Spring Hill Fire Rescue District, Hernando County Fire Rescue and, more recently, the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.
But now the county commission employees who are organizing this effort have turned to the Teamsters Union, reportedly because the monthly dues are a little less expensive, according to Times reporter Barbara Behrendt, who broke the story last week. If 30 percent of the 700-plus eligible employees sign up, then the union will notify the state Public Employees Relations Commission that it will hold an election. If a simple majority of employees who vote in that election favor a union, negotiation about pay and other issues will begin right away.
This is not the first time county workers have considered unionizing. They did so in 1999 and 2002; both times, the attempt failed.
So, why should anyone think this time will be different? Two reasons:
- Times are tougher, economically speaking. Obscenely high gas prices are headed in the wrong direction again. Despite what the Florida Legislature said, the homeowners insurance crisis is still unsolved. Property taxes are too high because the real estate, building and mortgage industries were too busy making money three years ago to worry about not overinflating the housing market. All these negative economic dynamics mean people simply cannot afford to lose their jobs.
Joining a union puts those people in a better position not to be laid off, fired, or to become dispensable otherwise.
- Because of what happened during the last budget session, commission employees have recognized their vulnerability. They saw the ability of a vocal minority of people, armed with agendas and misinformation, to rule the commissioners. County employees know if that group takes control, they become little more than $$$ on an expense ledger. They also know they were singled out. The antitax zealots did not point their guns at educators or law enforcement personnel.
However, one of the most appealing features of a union may be that it gives county employees a collective voice in the political process. Unions endorse candidates, including ones for county commission, if they choose. They also donate money to the candidates and causes they like, and work against those they don't like - for instance, the people who said bad things about them or took them for granted.
Anyone who thinks that is an unfair tactic is un-American. The ability to influence votes in an election is the foundation upon which this country was built.
I'll bet a greater percentage of government employees recognize that power now than the last time a vote was taken about unionization.
It is way too early to judge if a union is the best way to go for commission employees. More details are needed.
But the detail that won't ever change is this: A union's power ends at the bargaining table, but it begins at the polls.