BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County administration and the Teamsters Union representatives tried on Thursday to reach an agreement about how much weight seniority should carry when making hiring decisions.
Two hours into the morning session, Teamsters business agent John Sholtes declared an impasse and his intention of bypassing a hearing before the County Commission to go straight to a special magistrate to hear the case.
That could delay settlement of the contract for several months, officials said.
The abrupt end to negotiations that have been on and off since April 2011 stirred some emotional parting shots from the Teamsters who represent approximately 400 county workers.
Before the end of the meeting, Dan Oliver, a county employee and Teamster negotiator, called the county's practice of hiring outsiders for jobs that union members could do, but are being bypassed for, "bulls---.''
He went on to challenge Administrative Services director Cheryl Marsden, who chairs the administration team.
"Cheryl, why do you hate the employees so bad?'' he said.
Marsden responded that very few external hires have taken place recently.
"I would not believe a thing you say,'' Oliver countered, adding that most other county employees wouldn't either.
Tampa attorney Deborah Brown, part of the administration team, urged the group to abandon personal attacks and Marsden told the Teamsters that her job was to follow the direction she had received from the County Commissioners.
Sholtes took issue with Brown saying her side had made strides toward a compromise by offering to consider seniority in hiring.
Sholtes said that he didn't buy that the county had moved at all because its latest proposal still based hiring choices on discipline records, attendance, performance evaluations along with meeting the minimum requirements set out in the job posting.
"How is seniority a factor? It's a skewed system of screening and assigning points and assessing employees," he said.
The county administration had offered to use seniority as the deciding factor if all other measurements of two job candidates were equal.
They county also suggested the union consider language in a Teamsters contract from Monroe County but Sholtes shot that down. He said that Monroe County's issues were not Hernando County's issues. He also noted that the Teamster contracts for Citrus County's school and county workers, which do include seniority as a deciding factor, have never brought challenges.
The reason that the Teamsters wanted seniority as a controlling factor in Hernando is based on county hiring practices that Sholtes characterized as "cherry picking'' employees to move into new roles. At the same time, Teamster members have argued, the county would bring in outsiders for other positions that existing employees were qualified to fill but were passed over for.
Administration team members have taken the position that their goal is to bring the best possible person into the position. Brown told Sholtes that her team's problem with the Teamster proposal was that it didn't include interviews or screening an employee's work history, evaluations and attendance.
Also, it didn't allow supervisors to give applicants credit for additional skills or personal qualities that might make them a better fit for a job than the most senior employee.
Sholtes said the county can interview if they want but the deciding factor for anyone who met the job posting requirements should be county seniority.
"The problem is that there are so many variables,'' Brown said. "The county is always going to want to pick the person who brings the most in overall value.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.