BROOKSVILLE — Stung by sharp antigovernment criticism from residents during last year's contentious budget debates, Hernando County employees have overwhelmingly decided to hold an election on whether to join the Teamsters Union.
On behalf of the county workers, Teamsters Local 79 on Tuesday filed for an election with the Public Employees Relations Commission, the state organization that oversees public employees' unions.
"The Organizing Committee voted unanimously to file for an election. We have passed the 65 percent support mark and we feel the time is right for us to form our union with the Teamsters," Herb Sauer, a Hernando County equipment operator, said in a statement.
By law, the employees needed 30 percent of the proposed employee group to request an election. In Hernando, two-thirds of eligible workers signed cards to go forward with a vote.
Once the parties agree who will be part of the bargaining unit, an election will follow. That election could happen as soon as a month and a half, according to Teamsters business agent John Sholtes of Tampa.
"Job security is the number one issue'' for the workers, Sholtes said, adding that money is not as important as simply staying employed.
County employees received pay raises of between 2 and 3 percent last year.
With the passage of Amendment 1 and other efforts to cut property tax collections by the county, he said, employees have watched co-workers lose their jobs with "complete disregard of seniority.''
Employees also clashed with the former human resources director, Barbara Dupre, who was forced to resign this year. A county investigation found, among other things, that she lacked professionalism and that employees did not trust her.
"You mix her with Amendment 1 and you have an instant campaign for a bargaining unit,'' Sholtes said.
In order for the union to be formed, 50 percent of the workers plus one must vote in favor. About 600 workers will be eligible to vote.
There have been two other attempts in recent years to unionize county workers. They voted down both the Teamsters and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
This time, workers considered going with the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents Hernando County deputies, but switched to the Teamsters late last year.
That came just as last year's Government Gone Wild movement packed county budget hearings and pushed for cuts in county salaries and spending.
In addition to filing for the election Tuesday, the Teamsters also sent to County Administrator David Hamilton a second poster with photos of county employees who are part of the organizing effort.
Sholtes said the fliers serve an important function. The county cannot come back later and say they didn't know a particular employee was part of the organizing team.
Rather than putting them more at risk for retaliation, the exposure makes management steer clear.
"They literally have a security blanket,'' he said.
Sholtes met last week with Hamilton and said he has the administrator's assurance that he will not interfere with the organizing process.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.