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COUNTY CAN AVOID FIRINGS, UNION SAYS

A Teamsters leader says the county has reserve funds it can spend on payroll.

County officials should not be solving their budget woes "on the backs of the hardworking men and women'' who are county employees, the Teamsters union says.

In a formal statement, the union's chief spokesman argues that the county doesn't need to furlough, lay off or reduce pay for its workers because it is sitting on millions of dollars in "rainy day" reserves.

"Guess what: It's pouring outside,'' business agent John Sholtes wrote. "Why should the county commissioners sit on this pool of millions of dollars while the employees, citizens, taxpayers of this county have to suffer with layoffs, furlough days and hours reductions?''

The statement was issued to set the record straight on the Teamsters' views in the ongoing budget discussions and in response to what Sholtes terms "half truths" about the union's position announced publicly by county officials.

Facing a $10 million shortfall in the county's general fund alone, officials have scrambled over the summer to make spending cuts to offset the revenue shortfall. One of those cuts is a trim of more than half a million dollars from current payroll expenses.

A small part of that will be made up through furloughs approved this month for nonunion workers. But another $400,000 must come from additional furloughs, layoffs or pay cuts. In the middle of bargaining their first contract with the Teamsters, county administration has still not be able to settle such issues at the negotiating table.

During a discussion of the matter with commissioners last week, assistant county attorney Jon Jouben noted that the Teamsters union favors layoffs to furloughs.

What followed was a volley of e-mails between Sholtes and human resources director Cheryl Marsden, chief negotiator for the administration.

Sholtes said that Jouben was incorrect. He also notes that since both sides agreed to ground rules that prohibit them from talking in detail with the media about what happens at the table, it was unfair for county officials to make statements to which he could not respond.

"What would the correct statement be?'' Marsden countered in an e-mail. "We listened to the CD from the last negotiation session and you stated adamantly that the union was not interested in furloughs and you said even though it is against the Teamsters norm, the members were telling you to lay off people instead of furloughs.''

She also told him that Jouben wasn't breaking any ground rules by answering questions posed by the County Commission.

The taped negotiation session from Aug. 28 does reflect what Marsden describes. Sholtes tells administration team members that his workers will not approve a contract with furloughs, reduced hours or a contract without guaranteed hours.

"It ain't gonna fly," he said. "We're going to be sitting here for a very long time" trying to reach agreement on a contract.

He goes on to say that workers he and his team have spoken to are not in favor of furloughs. Many senior workers think that they don't face the danger of being laid off because of their senior status. They say they have put in their time and shouldn't have to sacrifice by taking pay cuts.

Sholtes said his philosophy would be to keep all the workers rather than see any laid off so that all can contribute to the union, but "I'm going by what I'm being told by this committee."

In his formal statement, Sholtes explained that the union is opposed to any of the payroll cuts, no matter the format. He said union members are concerned about reduced pay because many live paycheck to paycheck. If the county is overstaffed, "they have their management rights to lay off if that's what they felt they need to do,'' Sholtes said.

He concludes saying that the two teams can reach a tentative agreement at the bargaining table, but ultimately the contract "still has to be ratified by a majority of the affected employees to go into effect.''

Contract talks continue at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Development Department meeting room on Providence Boulevard in Brooksville. Meetings are open to the public.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

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