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Deputies rethink vote on unionizing

Another attempt to unionize Pasco sheriff's deputies is under way two years after the rank and file rejected a similar move.

The Florida State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police says enough officers - more than 200 of the approximately 400 deputies - have asked for an election in which all deputies, corporals, sergeants and lieutenants would vote on whether to let a union bargain on their behalf.

Before the 2004 vote, Sheriff Bob White gave a PowerPoint presentation to deputies to persuade them to reject the unions, which they did.

The sheriff won't do that this time around, said agency spokesman Kevin Doll, and will instead rely on the arguments he made two years ago.

"He wants the deputies to make up their own minds," Doll said. "He's never come out and said, "Don't vote for the union.' He's given his reasons why he thinks they're better for not unionizing, but again he wants them to make their choice."

One of the slides in the 2004 presentation read: "This administration would rather work with YOU than a 3rd party."

The West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association said that's no longer good enough for a number of deputies.

"We've heard from a large number of Pasco deputies," said president Kevin Durkin. "The typical concerns that most law enforcement officers share is working conditions, discipline, promotions and salaries."

The agency's response from Doll was: "It's easy to say that. How about some specifics?"

FOP staff representative Paul Noeske said it's too early to discuss complaints it has fielded from Pasco deputies. But he did discuss the advantages to unionizing.

"Certainly they get to bargain for their own wages and benefits," he said. "Right now they get what they're given, and certainly there's job security. In the labor agreement they have a grievance process."

The sheriff himself is a member of both the FOP and the PBA. But White's spokesman said the sheriff believes he can best represent his deputies.

"The main gist of the sheriff's argument was that he is an elected official, and he will work as a whole for the agency, whereas the unions would only work for the particular areas of groups that they represent," Doll said. "I believe that he feels in his capacity as sheriff he can do a better job looking out for the interests of his deputies and all his employees."

The PBA's efforts to unionize ran afoul of the Sheriff's Office on Jan. 17, when a captain asked members not to engage in union activities in the deputies parking lot behind the West Operations Center in Port Richey. Doll said the agency doesn't let anyone solicit deputies, and that the parking lot is restricted property.

"I didn't realize that was some security concern," Durkin said. "I suppose, being a career lawman myself, I'm not accustomed to having other lawmen tell me to get off the property."

No date has been set yet for the Public Employee Relations Commission to hold the secret-ballot vote. Unlike the last election, the agency's approximately 275 corrections deputies will not be participating.