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School workers file to unionize

Citrus County's non-teaching school employees on Tuesday announced their formal intention of unionizing.

The Florida Public Employee Relations Commission on Tuesday received a petition from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 79, seeking a union election.

That petition included the signatures of 219 of the approximately 550 district employees, said Darlene Alligood, chief deputy clerk for the commission.

The petition is the first step of a process that could take several months before non-teaching school workers can decide whether they want Teamsters representation. The process also allows other unions to participate if enough employees support that idea.

In 1991, the last time support personnel sought a union election, the idea lost 489-701 in a vote against representation by the Florida Teaching Profession _ National Education Association.

That union has represented the district's classroom teachers for more than 20 years.

The paperwork filed with the commission indicates that the employees seeking union representation include the district's full- and part-time bus drivers and driver substitutes, custodians, food service employees and maintenance workers.

In order to be considered for a union election, 30 percent of the eligible employees in a group must sign signature cards. In Citrus, that process has been going on for several months.

Superintendent Pete Kelly said he did not know that the cards had been filed.

"I'm as surprised as I can be. I didn't even know that it was in the wind," Kelly said. He noted he has been visiting with support personnel in the schools recently and, although he has heard rumors that union organizing was being discussed, he had heard nothing solid on the issue.

"I'm totally flabbergasted," he said, adding that the district is completing a study designed to help determine employee pay.

"If this compensation study comes back and is realistic, maybe that will be something positive that will work for us," he said.

Alligood said the commission will review the signatures; if enough of them are valid, a hearing will determine whether to set an election. The commission sets the date. A majority of those voting is needed to establish representation.

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