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Lee County sheriff's sergeants will have to revote on whether to disband their union after a state commission found Sheriff Mike Scott engaged in unfair labor practices.
Members of the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission ruled last week that Scott illegally influenced a decertification vote by offering $2,400 bonuses to nonunion members shortly before votes were cast. The sergeants, who chose to decertify by a tally of 48 to 25 in July 2012, are expected to hold a second vote in the next few months.
A hearing officer took issue with the timing of Scott's bonus promise, noting Scott had never given bonuses during his eight-year tenure, and deputies haven't had a pay raise in the past five years.
"Although Sheriff Scott told the employees that the one-time (bonus) was in recognition of their 'extra hard work and exemplary performance' he did not explain to them why he was compelled to announce the bonus in such close proximity to the decertification election," hearing officer Joey Rix wrote in a recommended order, which was adopted by the commission. "Furthermore, there was no showing that the announcement of the one-time bonus just before the election could not have been delayed until after the election."
Scott, a critic of unions, said the bonus announcement date was linked to a county budget report deadline, not the union vote. He has said the bonuses couldn't be offered to union members because contract negotiations with the union were ongoing.
In an email Wednesday, Scott said "the only 'victory' I'm ultimately concerned with took place on Aug. 14 and again on Nov. 6," referencing the respective dates of the 2012 Republican primary and general election, both of which Scott handily won.
"The mandates I received for a third term indicate I am not the only person in Lee County that is tired of unions whining," Scott said in the email.
At question now is whether this month's ruling will have any impact on a second vote. The union was approved by a narrow margin, 44 to 35, and suffered from internal strife over its decision in April 2012 to endorse Tim Fisher for sheriff in last year's Republican primary. Sergeants had also moved to hold the decertification vote before Scott's bonus announcement.
"I think those who voted to decertify may have second-thoughts about their need for good representation now," said Rich Roberts, spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations.
The commission sided with Scott on two allegations the union levied. It found he didn't discourage membership in the union through discrimination related to hiring tenure or other conditions of employment, and he didn't dominate, interfere with or assist in the administration of the union.
Roberts said IUPA officials are looking into what powers the sergeants union retains between now and the second vote. Contract negotiations had reached an impasse and Roberts said it's unlikely the sergeants and Scott will negotiate in the interim.