BROOKSVILLE — In a vote that surprised no one, Hernando County government's unionized workers Thursday night overwhelmingly defeated a contract that included cuts in benefits and furloughs.
The final tally showed 306 employees voting "no" and 45 "yes." In the smaller bargaining unit for professionals, seven voted "no" and just one "yes."
"We knew. It was to be expected,'' said Cheryl Marsden, the county's director of administrative services. Still, she said, she was surprised at the margin of defeat.
Marsden said she plans to meet with acting County Administrator Ron Pianta and Assistant County Attorney Jon Jouben early next week to map out the county's next steps.
Marsden said selling a contract during lean times was difficult. "In bad times, you don't have a lot to give,'' she said.
But when the county's constitutional officers said the day after the 2011-12 budget was approved that they were not going to force their employees to take the health care benefit cuts proposed for employees under the County Commission's jurisdiction, the task of gaining support for the contract grew tougher, she said.
Health care benefit cuts were among the top issues workers noted on their ballots as reasons for rejecting the pact, said Steve Mosely, business agent for Teamsters Local 79.
Currently, employees receive a county contribution toward health insurance of $670 a month for single employees, $760 a month for an employee plus a child or spouse, and $830 for an employee and family.
The contract proposed reducing coverage to two tiers, with a monthly contribution of $630 for single employees and $720 for an employee plus others.
Furloughs were another bone of contention.
A letter of agreement in the proposal would have required county employees to take 10 unpaid days off during the 2011-12 budget year. Those would have included two holidays that were previously paid holidays. Employees could have used up to six of their accrued paid-time-off days for the furlough days.
Wages in general were also a sticking point with employees, according to comments that many who voted wrote on their ballots, Mosely said. He is assembling a report on the reasons given that will be delivered to the county next week.
"They're all money-related,'' he said of the issues.
Mosely said he wasn't discouraged by the vote, and was happy to see such a large number of employees take the time to cast ballots.
Of the 518 employees under the commission's control, 422 are represented by the Teamsters. None of the employees in the county's constitutional offices are represented by the union.
The lack of equity between board-controlled employees and the constitutional offices' employees is not lost on workers, Mosely said.
"They have certainly borne the burden of the budget cuts,'' he said. "It looks like they've had enough.''
Mosely said he expects to be back at the bargaining table with the county by mid December. He said it should be a simple conversation about whether the county can find money to sweeten the pot.
"I think that the workers have sent a loud, clear message,'' Mosely said. "If you have 351 people vote and 306 vote "no," if that doesn't send a message, nothing will.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.