Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott is pushing back against unionization efforts at his agency and defending his choice of words on the issue.
A union proponent, meanwhile, said Scott is misleading employees.
In a Tuesday e-mail to county commissioners about an upcoming vote to unionize the Sheriff’s Office, Scott concluded with the following statement:
“In closing, I am reminded of a popular saying...Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered.”
After local media reported on Scott’s e-mail, the sheriff criticized the coverage and attempted to clarify his words in an agency-wide message.
“I was not indicting any subset of our membership or anyone else,” he wrote. “What I was simply trying to reinforce is a theme I have been sharing with you for some time now and that is the sad reality of our economy affecting everyone in a negative way.”
Scott also wrote that a union would make $15,000 a month in fees from agency employees, a figure disputed by the Gulf Coast chapter of the Police Benevolent Association, which is making the unionization push.
“Totally false,” is how chapter President Cecil Pendergrass described Scott’s figure.
The Benevolent Association will hold a formal vote to unionize the Lee County Sheriff’s Office in the coming months, following an initial poll that placed support at 40 percent.
A 51 percent favorable return would see the agency unionized. Roughly 380 deputies at the rank of corporal and below would then be covered in any collective bargain agreements the union reaches with the county, Pendergrass said. Scott placed the number at 402.
Deputies who pay union fees of $21 a month would receive additional perks, including extra legal help.
The $15,000 figure from Scott’s e-mail was made by adding the number of deputies at the rank of sergeant and below in the agency’s three divisions — law enforcement, courts and corrections — and multiplying the sum by $21, Scott wrote in an e-mail.
Pendergrass emphasized that the $21 fee is not mandatory of union members. He said 100 deputies currently pay union fees, and he imagined that few more would choose to do so even if unionization is approved.
“You still get to vote on the contact, you still get the benefits of the contract. You just don’t get the representation of the legal side,” he said of non-fee-paying members.
Pendergrass also said the Benevolent Association is only trying to unionize the law enforcement side of the agency, and not the courts and corrections sides.
Scott holds that a union could make no more headway in negotiations with the county than the Sheriff’s Office has in recent years.
“Apparently, (supporters) are of the impression that the PBA will be better able to negotiate salary increases given this, our second consecutive year without one...I have tried to stress the fantastic position we are in due to the many years of Lee sheriffs working closely with supportive boards,” he wrote in his e-mail to commissioners.
Scott wrote in the agency-wide e-mail that he felt “an obligation to raise additional thoughts for your consideration.”
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Follow reporter Steven Beardsley at www.twitter.com/ndn_sbeardsley