Sheriff Bob White did not have the right to impose a labor contract on the Pasco deputies union after negotiations reached an impasse, according to a recommendation by a state labor official.
The recommended order, which will go to the full Public Employees Relations Commission for consideration, addresses an open question in Florida labor law: who is the "legislative body" with final say in resolving labor impasse issues?
The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents Pasco deputies, says it's the County Commission. The sheriff says it's him.
So in March, White held a hearing on the issues that had stalled the union's labor contract: health insurance for retirees and the right to appeal disciplinary actions. He later ruled in favor of his own position on the matters.
The union filed suit, challenging the sheriff's authority to decide the impasse issues.
The Employees Relations Commission hearing officer wrote July 1 that the Sheriff's Office does not fit the definition of "legislative body" because it doesn't have the power to establish employment policy or appropriate funds.
"By purporting to resolve disputed impasse issues, the sheriff interfered with employees' rights to have the County Commission resolve those issues," according to the order. "Accordingly, the sheriff committed an unfair labor practice."
The order recommended that the sheriff be required to cease and desist from acting as the legislative body and post notices for his employees saying as much.
But the recommendation is just that. Either side can file exceptions to it, and then the issue goes for final decision by Employment Relations Commission.
Sheriff's Office spokesman Doug Tobin referred questions to White's labor attorney, Wayne Helsby, who did not return a call for comment.
Stuart Rosenfeldt, attorney for the FOP, said Helsby told him he plans to file exceptions.
Following PERC's decision, the case would probably go to an appeals court, and possibly the Florida Supreme Court.
"I think this is major law," Rosenfeldt said.
"This is going to have a statewide effect. It's a first impression, it's the first time PERC has ruled on this issue."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.