NEW PORT RICHEY — After three and half years of bargaining, Pasco County and the Teamsters Local 79 have finally agreed on a tentative contract that will govern 1,100 public employees.
“We’ve come to terms with the fact that the best thing for all concerned is to move forward,” County Administrator Michele Baker said.
The county ultimately accepted the recommendations from a Special Magistrate Dorothy Cowser Yancy, who sided with the union in its second impasse hearing on Jan. 28. The two sides have been attempting to negotiate their first contract since late 2010. The county will have paid its labor attorney more than $75,000 in fees by the time the contract goes to vote.
“It was a long hard fight - and the county made it hard along the way - but we didn’t give up,” utilities worker Frank Pilgrim said.
Teamsters lead negotiator John Sholtes said the employees are happy with the final result. Everything from break time to overtime pay to holidays to uniforms, to the size and location of union bulletin boards was subject to bargaining. But if one overriding issue superseded everything, it was the concept of seniority.
“We would have preferred to have stronger language on filling open positions based on seniority,” Sholtes said. “But we were able to get some seniority rights. There’s room for improvement.”
Road & Bridge worker Tom Russell said he hopes the contract will put an end to policies that allowed supervisors to award promotions and overtime to their friends. “Now we’ll have a rotation where everyone gets a chance to earn overtime,” Russell said. “There’s no more ‘good ol’boy’ system.”
When she was appointed last summer to replace longtime administrator John Gallagher, Baker promised to change the tone of labor negotiations. She has since resolved two festering labor disputes. Last October she smoothed relations with the firefighters union by fulfilling a pledge to give them the same 3-percent pay raise as other county employees. For most employees, it was their first pay raise in six years.
“We’re just glad,” Pilgrim said. “With the change in administration, Michele Baker, she was willing to hear what we had to say.”
The county remains at impasse with the union that represents fire department supervisors.
“I am first and foremost always in support of our employees,” Baker said.
While the contract does not include a pay raise, Baker said she hopes to be able to address employee pay in the next budget when the county completes its salary study.
“I definitely want to be able to give raises again,” she said. “Last year we did 3-percent across the board, but that was just replacing what the state took. We’re doing a salary study this year, we’ll be wrapping it up in April. So if we do raises, it may be position by position instead of across the board. That also depends on what happens with our tax revenue this year - we won’t know that until June.”
Baker said the union members will vote first on whether to ratify the contract - mail in ballots are due April 10 - then she will take it to the Board of Commissioners for approval.