Prison Guards Select Teamsters

Posted: December 6, 2011 in News and politics

Teamsters win right to represent prison workers

By Kathleen Haughney, Tallahassee Bureau

5:10 PM EST, November 17, 2011

TALLAHASSEE – In a surprise upset, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Thursday ousted the Police Benevolent Association as the collective bargaining agent for 18,939 prison employees across the state.

The switch was a blow to the PBA, which has represented correctional employees for more than 30 years and was a potent political player for much of that time. The PBA is currently a plaintiff in two high-profile lawsuits to stop the state’s privatization of South Florida correctional facilities and to invalidate changes to public employees’ pensions .

International Brotherhood of Teamsters President Jim Hoffa said it was a “great day” for the Teamsters and Department of Corrections officers.

“These are tough times, and they wanted a tough union to represent them,” he said.

The Teamsters, which won 4,097 of the 7,391 votes cast, began campaigning to represent correctional employees more than a year ago. In recent months, it has raised its public profile, filing an ethics complaint against Gov. Rick Scott over prison privatization – it was dismissed — and suing the state for not paying correctional workers for time they spend suiting up for work.

But like other public-employee unions, the PBA has struggled in recent years because of state budget cuts and legislative disregard for unions. Workers hadn’t seen an across-the-board raise in five years. And the privatization plan could have cost 3,8000 employees their state jobs.

Kimberly Schultz, a 16-year Miami probation officer, said she joined the Teamsters because she felt that she and her colleagues weren’t getting the recognition and benefits that they deserved.

“I thought [the Teamsters] could give us really strong representation,” she said. “I don’t feel that we’ve had that in a very long time.”

The PBA did recently score a major victory, persuading a Tallahassee circuit judge to overturn the state’s plan to privatize 29 South Florida facilities that legislators said would save $22 million a year. That case is on appeal.

The PBA said it will continue to move forward with the litigation.

“Of course we are disappointed in the result but nevertheless plan to continue to fight for the rights of corrections professionals,” said PBA Corrections President James Baiardi, adding, “It has been an honor to represent these officers and we wish them well.”

The Teamsters said they planned to work with the PBA on the appeal and would lobby against readoption of the plan by the Legislature.

Ken Wood, vice president of the Teamsters, said that members have been “very clear” about not wanting privatization.

“They want security on their job,” he said. “They do not want to be privatized. We will work long and hard to make sure it does not happen.”

The PBA has 15 days to contest the election. If it does not, the Teamsters will take over as the collective bargaining agent on Dec. 1, as Teamsters Local 2011, based in Tampa.

Khaughney@tribune.com. Follow her on Twitter @khaughney.

Copyright © 2011, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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