BROOKSVILLE — The 550 Hernando County employees represented by the Teamsters union will vote Monday on a proposal their bargaining agent termed "definitely in the top five for a first-time contract.''
John Sholtes, who headed up the Teamsters' negotiating team, pointed this week to provisions such as binding arbitration and language that recognizes worker seniority as especially important for workers.
"It is my opinion that a labor contract without binding arbitration is a useless document. There has to be an unbiased authority to determine whether there was a contract violation for an unsettled grievance,'' Sholtes said in an e-mail interview Tuesday.
"As far as seniority rights go, they are the hallmark of the labor movement,'' he said.
"Seniority rights make an employer color blind. There is no fairer way to stamp out favoritism, nepotism and racism than rewarding someone for their tenure with an employer.''
Sholtes also notes that such provisions also protect Hernando County "by keeping them out of court defending discrimination cases.''
With seniority serving as the prevailing factor in layoff decisions, Sholtes said the union expects the employees who remain will be able to do the job, which is to provide the needed county services.
The proposed contract has a defined layoff and recall procedure as well as an allowance for senior employees to "bump'' a more junior employee. That provision generated concern from members of the administration team who worried that wide use of bumping could disrupt county services.
Sholtes said the content of the pact is good and that he and the team will urge a yes vote from workers.
"The reason is because all of the ingredients are there to make it a great first contract,'' Sholtes said. "Considering the economic climate we are in right now, I would say I am very proud of what we accomplished through bargaining.''
While first contracts are often difficult because the negotiators don't know one another, "in this case, there seemed to be a mutual respect and interest in getting a deal done, while both parties understood the needs of the other, in order to make that happen,'' he said.
After the tentative agreement was reached, both Sholtes and the county administration team's lead negotiator, human resources director Cheryl Marsden, made the announcement together.
"We reached an agreement we will recommend with confidence to the goard," Marsden said during that announcement. "We were pleased with the level of cooperation demonstrated by all parties involved and we look forward to continuing this relationship in the future.''
Sholtes also expressed a similar sentiment.
"I hope we can expand our mutual trust, although there may be times where we can agree to disagree on certain issues,'' he said. "The county can expect integrity, honesty and a straight forward relationship from Teamsters Local 79 and we expect the same in return from the Hernando County administration.''
County employees overwhelmingly voted in the Teamsters in March after several other union votes in recent years failed. Workers cited concerns ranging from fears about job security to hopes of overcoming favoritism.
At that same time, the county was gearing up for budget cuts to offset millions of dollars in lost tax revenue. Workers had seen jobs go unfilled, transfers and layoffs in some departments, such as development services.
Negotiations for the first contract began in late April and the tentative contract for the teams was approved last week.
The tentative contract now must be approved by both the county employees and the county commission. The first step is a ratification meeting on Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the commission chambers. County employees have been invited to attend and participate.
Sholtes will present the proposal and answer questions. Then county workers will be able to vote on the contract with a vote count immediately afterward. The commission will consider the contract on Nov. 10.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.