BROOKSVILLE — County workers represented by the Teamsters union will go to the ballot box this evening to decide on a contract that includes furloughs, reductions in health insurance reimbursements and more restrictions on cash payouts when they leave their jobs.
Union leaders and the county's bargaining leadership both have expressed concern about the outlook for the contract. A "no" vote would send the two teams back to the bargaining table.
There was optimism while negotiations were under way. But the day after the County Commission approved the 2011-12 county budget, which included the benefit cuts for employees, the county's constitutional officers announced they would not cut their employees' health benefits.
That's when the outlook for tonight's vote became unclear, said Cheryl Marsden, the county's director of administrative services.
At least one county commissioner said he has been encouraging county employees to reject the contract.
"I'm telling people to vote it down,'' said Commissioner Jeff Stabins. "I can't understand why any hard-working employee would vote for this contract. The whole thing is a farce.''
He predicted that the contract will be overwhelmingly turned down and that the county still could find a way to make up for the savings the cuts are supposed to produce — approximately $225,000.
The concessions were sought by the county's administrative team because huge declines in property values have continued to lower property tax revenue. Also this budget year, the county ran out of regular reserve funds to tap.
Among the changes in the proposed contract, health insurance contributions for employees would be decreased. Currently, employees receive $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 proposes two tiers of coverage with a monthly contribution of $630 for single employees and $720 for an employee plus others.
The contract also lays out a series of types of misconduct that would cost employees their accrued paid time off when they are terminated. No such list has existed previously. It includes drug or alcohol use or intoxication; theft; unauthorized use of weapons, firearms or explosives on county job sites; and serious criminal infractions at the workplace.
Another addition to the contract is a letter of agreement that county employees will take 10 unpaid days off during the 2011-12 budget year. Those include two holidays that were previously paid holidays. Employees could use up to six of their accrued paid-time-off days for the furlough days.
Of the staffers under the control of the County Commission, 422 are represented by the Teamsters; 96 are not.
Stabins said he wants to see the constitutional officers — clerk of court, property appraiser, tax collector and supervisor of elections — step up during 2012-13 budget talks so that all county employees are treated equally.
"I intend to fight for our employees because our employees have suffered enough,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.