MADEIRA BEACH — The city's non-administrative employees may decertify their union, opting instead to let the city manager and City Commission decide their future wages and benefits.
Secret ballots mailed out by the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission to the 25 employees represented by the Communications Workers of America are scheduled to be tallied Monday.
The action comes about two years after a change in the City Commission majority resulted in nearly all the city's administrators resigning. Others were fired or had their jobs eliminated.
The following year was characterized by political turmoil as the commission tried to find a new city manager.
After Shane Crawford was hired to manage the city in January 2012, the number of city employees continued to decline as positions were left unfilled, with many permanently removed from the employee roster.
The city now has 65 full- and part-time employees. Of that number, about 25 are represented by the CWA.
Administrators and certain other employees are not eligible, and firefighters are represented by a different union.
Crawford said Tuesday that if a majority of eligible employees vote to decertify the CWA, he plans to immediately begin to restructure both their position descriptions and pay scales.
"I think such a move on the part of the employees not only shows trust and faith in the administration but also in the board of commissioners," Crawford said. "They are looking at the value of the union and seeing that it is possibly not there for them."
He denied reports that he encouraged the decertification effort, but said he is on record as favoring getting rid of the union.
"It wasn't motivated on my part in any way, but I do think not having a union creates a more flexible situation for correcting salary issues,'' he said. "We run a $2 million company, and we should be able to deal with employees as we see fit."
In June 2012, Cheryl Rodde, now Crawford's assistant, filed a petition for a decertification election but withdrew it after she was promoted and was no longer eligible for union membership.
Then in December, two city employees — Heather Lucas, a recently hired building permit technician, and Ken Zongora, public works supervisor who has worked for the city for nearly two decades — petitioned the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission for the decertification election.
The union's actual paid membership is only about four employees, according to the Madeira Beach union representative, Steve Burdick.
Burdick, who is retiring July 1, confirmed that interest in the union has dwindled over the years.
The union was formed in 2003 amid widespread employee distrust and anger with then-City Manager Jim Madden, according to Steve Sarnoff, president of CWA Local 3179.
Sarnoff acknowledged that he expects the union to be voted out of Madeira Beach.
Without a union to represent employees, "there are no guarantees" that employees could not be fired at will, he said. "Madeira Beach has been a real challenge for us. I have heard from employees that they are being threatened with being fired if they did not play along" with the current administration.
Crawford denied making any such threats, and stressed that "no employees will lose their jobs" just because there is no union. His goal is for longtime employees actually to be paid more, he said.
"Having people here for 18 years and topping out at $18 an hour just doesn't seem right," Crawford said.
The city is moving toward outsourcing some of its parks services, but Crawford stressed he has no intentions of outsourcing the city's sanitation service.
Crawford said if employees do decertify their union, he plans to work closely with the Civil Service Commission to develop a new pay scale that would be presented to the City Commission for approval.
Meanwhile, a 3 percent raise for employees negotiated with the CWA last year and scheduled to go into effect Oct. 1, 2012, will be paid retroactively, Crawford said, once the decertification election is complete, whatever the results.