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Teamsters court Pasco County workers

Not long after the county started talking layoffs, workers began getting knocks on their doors at home.

The Teamsters representatives on their doorsteps wanted to know: What do county employees think about unionizing?

Fresh off a victory organizing Hernando County employees earlier this year, Teamsters have now turned their attention to Pasco County government's rank and file.

The campaign comes as the county wrestles with a deficit that could translate into the elimination of 260 positions, almost 125 of which are filled.

Randy Pines, a regional organizer with the Teamsters Joint Council 75, said he has about 10 people knocking on doors in Pasco County. In April, a Teamsters representative made a public records request for the names and addresses of nonsupervisory county employees.

Pines said the Teamsters are following up on requests by Pasco employees interested in a union.

"A number of employees contacted us to ask what it would take to organize," he said. "I think the main issue is respect on the job. Of course, everybody is nervous about layoffs."

Unionizing would be a two-step process. By law, at least 30 percent of the proposed employee group would have to request an election. The election results would be determined by a majority of the votes cast.

Pines said a union can't prevent layoffs, but it would give workers more say in how those decisions are made. He said the Teamsters "can dump as much manpower as we want" into Pasco to help the effort. But he said it's up to workers.

"We're not here to force or impose," he said. "We're not trying to sell cars. … We help them become a union."

Teamsters are not new to Pasco. From 1985 to 1998, Pasco firefighters were organized as part of the Teamsters Local 444.

During its tenure, that union negotiated only two ratified contracts. Membership dwindled to 13 workers by March 1998, two months before the union dissolved.

Firefighters are now unionized as a local chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters. That has not spared them from possible layoffs.

The proposed budget calls for eliminating 48 of the county's 277 firefighting positions and 20 of its 163 ambulance personnel. County administrators say those numbers could drop significantly if salary concessions can be negotiated with the firefighters union.

Pines said so far he has been getting mixed reactions from employees.

County personnel director Barbara DeSimone said there was a previous attempt before her 16-year tenure to unionize general employees. She said there have not been any attempts since then.

She said she has received about 25 phone calls from employees in the last two months since Teamsters began knocking on doors. None of those callers, she said, was particularly happy about the visits.

"A lot of them are upset they came to their house," she said.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Teamsters court Pasco County workers 07/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 24, 2009 9:07pm]
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