Some call it payback for the 5% loss and the veto override that arguably strained some of his already-limited ability to negotiate with the county employee unions, but Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is proposing new contracts that ask for a 10% cut in base pay and hints at a new battle with our county labor leaders, who say the proposed cuts will set employees back decades.
“That’s not going to happen,” said Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera, who said the 10% cut was punitive because the employees were able to get a 5% alleged “healthcare” deduction returned to them after the commission overrode the mayor’s veto in February.
“It’s basically gutting the collective agreement,” said Andy Madtes, president of the big American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees representing the general county workers, referring to other “snapbacks” on benefits that have been negotiated throughout the years.
Neither the PBA nor the big AFSCME had met with the mayor’s bargaining team yet, but the 10 percent and the other concessions — which include the elimination of night pay, court pay, holiday pay and other perks — were outlined in a memo the mayor sent commissioners on Wednesday to update them on contract negotiations.
The memo also says his office has spoken directly with only three unions — the solid waste, the aviation workers and the supervisors union. The three little ones. Other bargaining units are scheduled through the next few weeks as the budget process gets underway. The big AFSCME goes in on Monday.
But labor leaders who spoke to Ladra said that they feel this is a first and “worst case scenario” salvo that even the mayor doesn’t expect to get. Hence the word negotiations. And Carlos II is kind of fond of the bait and switch strategy. You know, propose the worst possible doom and gloom picture and then come back with something awful, but not as bad, and people will wipe their brow and say, “Whew. That was close.” Remember the libraries and fire stations he was going to close down? The tiny tax increase? The soccer stadium at the port. The first Miami Heat arena deal compared to the last?
In fact, Ladra would not be surprised if the mayor is really only trying to get back his 5%.
The mayor’s spokesman, Michael Hernandez, went on the Mira TV show Prohibido Callarse Thursday with me and Roberto Rodriguez-Tejera and admitted it was a doom and gloom scenario (my words and his) that was just one of several possibilities. Both the host and another guest, former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez — who, like Ladra, supported Gimenez’s run for mayor in 2011 — said it shows a lack of leadership skills.
It also shows either greed or a really bad grasp of math. The mayor has said that the county is facing between a $160 million to $208 million shortfall. The concessions and 10% would fund way over that — something like $90 million from the big AFSCME alone, according to Madtes.
So why would the mayor propose taking so much from county employees? Again, more likely it’s a bait and switch. “It could have been worse,” people will whisper. Pffft.
Also, didn’t Commissioner Barbara Jordan ask the mayor to please try to look elsewhere and not try, again, to balance the budget on the backs of county employees? There is no indication that anyone is doing that — except the union leaders.
Ladra knows that there is a labor health care committee working on possibly opening up the contract currently held by AvMed to a competitive process. Madtes believes the county can save $60 to $70 million just there. But unless there was a miraculous wormhole opened in the government morass that is known as procurement, that is not likely to happen before the September deadline for new contracts.
Meanwhile, the PBA has a lawsuit to retrieve the 5% they argue was taken illegally from them and they may have a good case. Several county officials, even the mayor himself if I am not mistaken, have admitted that it was never for a general healthcare trust fund. Key word: Trust. They have said publicly already, and it can certainly be documented if so, that it was to balance the budget. It could cost the county millions of dollars if the PBA wins.
Union workers are an easy mark. They don’t have the spin doctors that the county has. They have good, secure jobs in an uncertain world rife with economic upheaval and people get jealous. They also do sometimes have bloated salaries and perks that need to be done away with. Ladra suggests the people who are paid salaries to do union work get paid by the unions and not by the taxpayers while they are off the clock. Their jobs should be held for them to return.
In return, since we’re negotiating, I say the mayor stop including millions of dollars in budgeted positions that the administration has no intention to fill. See if that can cut the shortfall at least by half.