Teamsters, PBA Battle Heats Up as Corrections Vote Showdown Looms
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With the PBA still high off last month’s court victory against Florida’s effort to privatize 29 South Florida correctional facilities, the Teamsters on Thursday announced they want federal officials to investigate claims that the state continues to violate the wage and hour regulation of certain PBA-backed prison workers.
Michael Filler, national director of the Teamster’s Public Service Division, said a complaint filed Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Labor against the Florida Department of Corrections was based upon the advice of its legal counsel. The union vote next week, he maintained, was a coincidence.
“We uncovered these facts, we referred it to legal counsel and we were told the best course to pursue,” Filler said Thursday morning while addressing the media at the Florida Press Center. “It just happens to be we’re in the middle of this campaign, but the fact of the matter, we think the law has been violated here and we want to stop wage theft.”
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Still, Filler added, the Teamsters would provide officers who haven’t received a wage increase in seven years, a more “aggressive” negotiator at a time when the state has sought to reduce the state worker unions.
The correctional and probation officers begin voting Oct. 18 on who will be their collective bargaining representatives during tough budget times.
The choices include the Teamsters, the PBA and even a preference for no union representation. The results of the vote will be released after Nov. 15.
Matt Puckett, Florida PBA executive director, tipped his hat to Filler for announcing the federal complaint so near the start of voting. But he noted the police union, which represents approximately 13,000 corrections and probation officers, tried that maneuver nearly two decades ago. It was initially successcful, only to have the rulings overturned by both the 11th Circuit Court and U.S. Supreme Court.
“The 11th Circuit looked at this and ruled the state had sovereign immunity and then the Supreme Court looked at it and said the federal Department of Labor doesn’t have any jurisdiction -- it doesn’t have any teeth -- to do anything,” Puckett said.
He added that he expects the officers to remain with the PBA, as the court ruling against the state’s prison privatization effort should disprove accusations that the police union hasn’t been aggressive.
“If anybody thinks the PBA is not aggressive, they’re not paying attention,” Puckett said.
Puckett added that the PBA has been trying to get its members pay raises, but “nobody is getting pay raises.”
Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford on Sept. 30 sided with PBA attorneys, who argued lawmakers should have put the potential privatization of 29 correctional facilities in South Florida into a separate bill, rather than as a proviso to the budget.
The state continues to weigh an appeal.
Fulford’s ruling didn’t object to the state privatizing prisons, just how the legislation was enacted as part of the budget this past spring.
In their complaint, the Teamsters allege officers are not fairly paid for the time they begin to pick up equipment at the correctional institute and when they check in, which ranges from 15 to 30 minutes a day.
“When you multiply it over a year’s period (of) time, we think we’ll have situations where individuals have worked over 200 hours a year and haven’t been properly compensated,” Filler said. “We’re also asking for Governor Rick Scott to stop the wage theft. He can direct the Department of Corrections and secretary to immediately cease violating the law and require all work being performed by correctional officers and others to (be) properly compensated by federal and state law.”
Filler added that the union has determined that the failure to follow wage-and-hour regulation practices has occurred at many prisons in the state.
Scott’s office did not respond to comment.
Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said in a release, “We have not seen the complaint and have not had time to review it.”
Sgt. Aaron Cobb, a PBA-represented corrections officer who is part of the Teamsters Union complaint, said the check-in procedures for all corrections officers to pick up can range from 15 minutes to 25 minutes. The time is uncompensated, as they go through check-in picking up keys, radio, gas canisters and other job-related equipment, until they get to their daily post where they sign in for the day.
“That’s part of the job, they should have to pay for it,” said Cobb, a 12-year veteran who said the check-in procedures have grown in the past couple of years.
Teamsters’ attorney Patricia Ireland said federal case law from 1987 has said that if what you are doing is an integral part of one’s job, that time should be compensated.
“Picking up that equipment is not optional,” she said. “From the time they pick up that equipment, they should be paid. You’re on the job, you should be paid.”
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859 or (772) 215-9889.