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Hernando County employees begin voting on unionization

BROOKSVILLE — More than 500 ballots will be mailed out today asking Hernando County employees to make the first of two decisions about organizing under Teamsters Local 79.

The initial ballot will ask workers whether they believe county employees should be separated into two units for contract bargaining purposes or remain as one unit. The actual decision on whether to unionize will come later this spring after the first question is answered, according to John Sholtes, business agent for the Teamsters.

County employees have been talking about organizing under a union for several months. While previous attempts to organize have failed, Dan Oliver, one of those involved in the current effort, said the timing is right for the idea to succeed.

"Right now people are afraid for their jobs. We're as vulnerable as everyone else is out there,'' said Oliver, a 20-year county employee who works as a maintenance technician in facilities. "It's for everyone's protection, and people are finally starting to see that.''

County leaders have been leaving open positions unfilled and have trimmed employees in some areas as they try to keep the budget balanced and cope with sharp declines in tax revenue and other revenue collected as fees. Just this week, the County Commission approved a plan to reorganize the structure of county government to improve efficiency.

Oliver said he is getting a good response to the idea of joining the Teamsters. "So far it's been real positive. Everybody sees the need for a union,'' he said, noting that there has also been strong support from retired residents who have experience with unions and from local sheriff's deputies and firefighters, who are unionized.

Sholtes said the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission, which oversees union elections, sometimes determines that an employee group should decide for itself whether to be multiple bargaining units or just one.

The reason for possibly splitting the unit is because "when you include professional workers and nonprofessional workers, sometimes the workplace issues vary so greatly that it makes sense to divide the unit,'' he said.

In Hernando County, there are just 14 workers who would comprise the professional unit that would include various categories of librarians, a zoning official and a planner.

The mailed ballots will be tabulated in Tallahassee on Feb. 18. After that, a date will be set for an on-site election to determine whether the workers want the Teamsters as their representative. That decision could come as early as March.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando County employees begin voting on unionization 01/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 7:41pm]
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