SPRING HILL — At the end of the nearly two-hour session Thursday, John Sholtes put it this way: "That's round one.''
The chief negotiator for Teamsters Local 79 emerged optimistic from the first meeting between the union and county administration.
The Teamsters, represents some 535 county employees, and Hernando County Human Resources director Cheryl Marsden promised to bargain in good faith, maintain a civil exchange and reach a contract.
Sholtes said that because the county handled the union organizing period with neutrality, he felt the sides would soon "cross the bridge (from respect) to a level of trust.''
"I don't like playing games and I don't want you playing games with us,'' he said.
Each side recognized that this first contract will be drawn up during the worst fiscal environment most at the bargaining table have ever endured. Sholtes said his team had no intention of presenting proposals that were "pie in the sky.''
Marsden said the county's goal was to reach an agreement which was good for the county, the employees and the taxpayers that they serve. "There's much to do in the weeks and months ahead,'' she said.
One of the first tasks was to set ground rules, and the two sides grappled over the number of county employees allowed as part of the team. Sholtes argued that many different job categories were part of the two separate bargaining units and their perspectives needed to be heard.
Marsden said they needed a manageable size for the group and that too many employees away from their work would hurt productivity, something Hernando County's very interested citizenry would notice.
They finally settled on six employees, plus the union's bargaining agents. Those workers can take personal time or flex their time to participate.
Sholtes pointed out that many employers allow employees who are on the bargaining team to do their negotiating on the clock, but Marsden said that wasn't going to happen here.
"If we were in better times, maybe,'' she said.
The union also presented a proposed contract that focused on nonmonetary provisions, some of which related to the issues that employees debated during the Teamsters' organizing campaign.
During that campaign, people were concerned about rules that changed or were never made known to workers or which were enforced inconsistently. The Teamster proposal seeks to have standard operating procedures posted in the various departments.
"That was a huge, huge complaint during organizing,'' Sholtes said.
Another employee concern has been that when an employee makes a move from one job to another, a new probationary period kicks in. Sholtes said the Teamsters are arguing that while a new job might include a set adjustment period, there should be just one probationary period.
Other portions of the Teamsters' proposal included policies on leave, grievances and arbitration, and progressive discipline. Some language was pulled directly from existing county policy.
Sticking points were already becoming evident. Among them were how to handle binding arbitration for grievances, which Marsden said the county doesn't do and Sholtes said should be an essential element in the first contract.
There are also questions about what kinds of disagreements should be allowed to go through the grievance policy and how family leave should mesh with other earned employee time off.
The teams set up full-day negotiations throughout the next several months and voiced hope that agreement could be reached on contract terms by the end of summer.
The teams return to the bargaining table May 15.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.