A promise of fiscal year-end bonuses for members of the Lee County Sheriff's Office has further strained an already troubled relationship between Sheriff Mike Scott and members of his agency's unions, who he said will not be receiving the end-of-year cash.
In an email in early June, Scott offered the "one-time" bonus check to all full-time members except those represented by a union. This, he said, was because when the groups unionized they invoked a status quo doctrine that "means that everything stays the same for these members until they negotiated a contract."
At a negotiation meeting this week, the sergeants union said its members would accept the bonuses, said Rich Roberts, a spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations. But in emails, Scott said it is unlikely the bonuses will be offered to them.
"Legally and based on the principal of the IUPA's self-imposed 'status quo' it would be wrong and is in fact against my legal advice to extend the bonus to the union members … the members that voted to segregate themselves from the rest of the agency," Scott wrote.
Scott said he was offering bonuses because his team had gone three years without a raise and because they had watched county commissioners approve raises for Lee County Port Authority officers last year. An exact dollar amount for the Sheriff's Office's bonuses has not yet been determined and will not be settled until the end of the fiscal year in September, he said.
Also at this week's meeting, the sergeants' union suggested a step plan with a 5-percent annual increase over the next three years "to bring sergeants closer to the salaries of other similar departments," Roberts said.
"The heart of the matter is our officers, whether they're sergeants or deputies, want a fair wage and fair treatment and a secure future," he said.
Scott said the Sheriff's Office and the union came to no agreements this week and said a request for higher salaries "flies in the face of reason."
"The question for me is, in this economy, the worst of our lifetime, how in the world are you at the table asking for these things?" he said. "I'm not faulting them for wanting. I'm faulting them for timing."
In the coming weeks, members will vote on whether to keep the unions, Scott and Roberts said. That vote will be tallied July 17.