By a narrow vote, county employees join the Teamsters
NEW PORT RICHEY - By a narrow margin, Pasco County employees on Thursday joined the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The vote was 484 in favor, 450 against joining the Teamsters' Tampa-based Local 79. In all, 85 percent of nearly 1,100 workers who were eligible to vote did so, said Steve Meck, general counsel for the state Public Employee Relations Commission. The 1,100 eligible voters made up just over half the county's 2,000 workers. Ballots went out Sept. 7 to a list of workers that ranged from 911 dispatchers to building inspectors to librarians.The vote didn't include firefighters and deputies, who have their own unions. Anyone who wants to challenge the vote has 15 days to do so, Meck said. After that, the vote becomes official and Pasco workers will join more than 45,000 unionized government employees in the Tampa Bay area. The Teamsters' Local 79 represents about 4,000 workers, most of them UPS employees. Florida law lets workers opt out of joining the union while still benefiting from collective bargaining the union does with employers. By voting for the union, Pasco workers joined the growing ranks of organized public employees. Nationally, about 37 percent of public employees belong to unions, compared with 7 percent of privately employed workers, according to federal labor statistics. The vote ended a lengthy effort by the Teamsters to organize Pasco's county workers. The Teamsters successfully organized Hernando County workers in 2009. Those workers voted by a ratio of 3-to-1 in favor of the union. The monthlong mail-in ballot was tallied the day before Pasco's 2010-11 budget was to go into effect. As part of that budget, 43 current county workers got pink slips. Some of those workers could be rehired in other positions in the county by Oct. 8, Personnel Director Barbara DeSimone said. County officials made a similar offer to workers laid off in last year's budget cutting. Many of those who returned took a pay cut. Discontent has percolated through the county rank-and-file for several years, driven by commissioners' efforts to streamline as revenue continued to shrink. Commissioner Ted Schrader said he views the union vote as a sign that workers want more say in the way the county operates. "On the other hand, 450 were OK or didn't feel a union was the best answer to the county's problems right now," he added. In a written statement, Teamster officials welcomed Pasco workers to the union. "Now we will work hard to negotiate a contract that will provide the Pasco County workers with the brighter future they deserve," said Ken Wood, president of Tampa-based Local 79. County officials said the vote won't have a bearing on workers' pay and benefits in the budget that takes effect today. The 2012 budget could be a different story. "It's all up to negotiations," County Administrator John Gallagher said.
Reporter Kevin Wiatrowski can be reached at (813) 731-8168.