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Even As Lawsuit Gets in the Way, Sheriff and Union Agree that “Substantial” Raises Are Due

| November 19, 2014

Who has their back? Sheriff's deputies and other employees have been without a substantial raise for five years, and have seen their wages eroded by a 3 percent cut in take-home pay and by inflation. (© FlaglerLive)

Who has their back? Sheriff’s deputies and other employees have been without a substantial raise for five years, and have seen their wages eroded by a 3 percent cut in take-home pay and by inflation. (© FlaglerLive)

It’s been five years since deputies and other employees at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office got a serious raise. There are some deputies who make $36,000 a year after almost a decade’s service at the agency. That’s several thousand dollars less than a starting teacher in Flagler schools, despite six, seven or eight years’ service. With the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office just awarding a 4 percent raise top its ranks and other agencies in surrounding counties doing likewise, local deputies are taking the training and experience they’ve accrued here and looking elsewhere—a double loss for the Sheriff’s Office, as it costs a lot of money to train a new deputy, and experience can only be gained over time.

Earlier this year the sheriff’s administration and the employees’ union—the Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association and Public Employee Association, which represent sworn deputies and administrative, non-uniformed employees—jointly paid $5,000 for a salary study. The study found that most rank-and-file employees were underpaid, and that they should be raised to a minimum of the range within each of their recommended pay grade. Typically, that would work out to about a $5,000 increase for deputies, or a 6 percent raise.

To put that in perspective: The previous sheriff, Don Fleming, awarded his ranks three successive, compounding raises that by April 2009, had netted employees a 33.8 percent pay increase. But those raises were negotiated at the height of the housing boom, when Flagler was awash in money—and was about to go bust. The raises being discussed now are small in comparison—and getting smaller.

If anything, employees have taken a pay cut and seen their salaries further eroded by the cost of living: two years ago they were required to start contributing 3 percent of their pay to the Florida Retirement System, which amounted to an equivalent pay cut. And in the past five years, they’ve seen their benefits costs increase, reducing their take-home pay, and inflation, while modest, reduce their purchasing power further.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, an employee who was paid $35,000 in 2009 would have had to be paid $38,000 this year—just to stay even with the cost of inflation. Ironically, the sheriff himself benefited from a relatively substantial raise when the salary was increased from $120,394 to $125,118 two years ago, which equates to 4 percent–and an additional 0.4 percent this year–though the Sheriff’s Office or the county commission had nothing to do with it: constitutional officers’ salaries are set by the state.

There is no disagreement between Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre and the union that “substantial raises,” as Manfre puts it, are needed. He considers his employees underpaid, and his agency at risk a deputy drain to other agencies. “I completely agree that after five years of no increases or no substantial increases,” Manfre said Wednesday, “that our employees as well as county employees need to have substantial raises. There’s no light between us on that issue.”

A meager 1% raise is held hostage by a lawsuit’s uncertain outcome, but negotiating stances aside, both sides show willingness to bridge differences.

Yet the union and the Sheriff’s Office have been at an impasse in negotiations since late October, when the union’s chief negotiator, Mike Scudiero, declared impasse after a brief negotiating session. That impasse may not end until late January or early February, when the two sides have agreed to a mediation session with an administrative judge. But even then, whatever the judge recommends can be accepted or rejected by either side, leaving the County Commission to be the final arbiter. It is extremely rare in Florida history, where unions by law have very little power and are essentially at the mercy of management, that elected officials side with unions against their employer: The Palm Coast City Council recently illustrated that dynamic with its firefighters’ union. In the sheriff’s case, the commission channels the money to the sheriff, so it’s not a disinterested party.

What led to that point is a difference less over substance than over timing, caused in large part by lawsuits saddling the sheriff’s administration. A degree of mistrust and some finger-pointing is also to blame, even though both sides have handled the negotiations amicably and with respect. The sheriff’s camp blames the union for declaring impasse rather than negotiating. The union blames the sheriff’s office for refusing to make any substantial proposal it could take to its membership.

“The problem is we’re being told no, no and no,” Scudiero said, “how many ways can you hear no before you declare impasse?”

There is also a fundamental disagreement over what, precisely, divides the two sides. The sheriff says the union wanted a 6 percent raise right off the bat. That’s true in the strictest sense of the term, but it’s not the whole truth: the 6 percent request was only the starting point in negotiations, based on the salary study. The union is aware of current budget realities, and was quickly willing to talk of more realistic terms: 1 percent.

“We’re not here asking enormous raises in the face of everybody else struggling too,” a sheriff’s employee familiar with the negotiations, who asked for anonymity, said. “We’re trying to get back to even from what we’ve lost over the past few years, and then trying to get it up to par to where we’re supposed to be.”

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The sheriff recognizes that shift tangentially rather than officially.

“I don’t believe they’ve ever made that statement in negotiations. That would be news to me,” Sid Nowell, one of the sheriff’s attorneys, said. (Another attorney, Wayne Helsby, is the lead negotiator for the sheriff, though Nowell has been involved.)

But the 1 percent—what would amount to a mere $400 per rank and file employee, or $187,000 in all–has been at the heart of discussions outside of formal negotiating sessions nevertheless, since the county commission awarded the money for that 1 percent with raises in mind: that’s not in question, either. That money was to be disbursed, as it was for county employees, at the beginning of the fiscal year in October. It wasn’t. (The county commission provides the money, but it may n ot attach demands on how the money is used.)

Manfre isn’t disputing why the money was held back:  a federal lawsuit over labor practices filed by one former employee, since joined by four more, is compelling him to keep money in reserve to use depending on how the lawsuit is resolved. Essentially, the employees say they were cheated of overtime pay when required to attend briefings off the clock: an internal memo from the sheriff’s own human resources director appeared to agree, making it more than likely that some form of pay-out will be part of a settlement. Manfre says the practice was in place before he took office and has since been scrapped.

“That lawsuit came in after my budget,” Manfre said. “We’re in the process of trying to settle that lawsuit. The settlement of that lawsuit is going to put dollars in their pocket. They’re going to get the increase either through the lawsuit or through an increase.”

In other words if more employees join the lawsuit, the pay-out would equate to a 1 percent raise to them, and if no additional employees join the lawsuit, then the sheriff said there’d be money in the pot to award the balance of the money in the form of the 1 percent raise.

“Internally,” Nowell said today, “we’re still trying to work through the numbers and trying to identify options to provide the employees a raise. I think it’s fair to say that the sheriff believes his employees are entitled to a raise, but he has to get the money somewhere, and internally that’s what we’re trying to work on. Another option the union could take would be let’s start talking about next year’s budget and what kind of raises could be included in that, and get the county commission involved. That would make a lot more sense than trying to get something out of nothing at this point.”

Mike Scudiero.

Mike Scudiero.

But if the union never made its request for a 1 percent raise official—a contention the union disputes—the Sheriff’s Office never put any proposal in writing, including a pledge to make that 1 percent raise available in one way or another this year—or its proposal to institute a three-pronged “step” plan for future raises, even though, again, both sides agree in principle on the value of just such a step plan.

Scudiero keeps returning to the matter of having something he can take to the membership. “If it’s something remotely acceptable we would take it to the membership for a vote, but we’ve gotten no offer whatsoever,” he said, stressing that the 1 percent, at the least, should have been released. “Because the sheriff can’t get his legal ducks in a row should not be the problem of our membership.” He added: “We can’t accept that, I don’t think the county commission will accept that, I don’t think the special magistrate will accept that.” Even the step-plan proposal is attached to “no guarantee whatsoever with it,” Scudiero said. “Without a guarantee, it’s going to be a hard sell.”

Nevertheless, the two sides appear to have hardened in words more than in fact, with willingness on both sides to work out something this year, particularly as the matter has been gaining more attention. A mediation session on the federal lawsuit is scheduled for Dec. 3, when the amount the sheriff may have to pay employees will likely become clearer—if there is a settlement. That may be grounds for a breakthrough in negotiations with the union.

“Everything is negotiable,” Scudiero said, “and if they want to come to the table with an offer that pouts us into 2015 at some point but with some guaranteed money, we’d have to take that very seriously,” though he noted that talking only 1 percent in 2015 would not be acceptable anymore. “If I can get an offer that I can take to the membership, I’d be happy.”

“I think for next year we’re going to be successful,” Manfre said, underscoring the importance of the union also making its case for substantial raises to the county commission, “and for this year one way or another the sworn officers will get some sort of increase.”

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14 Responses for “Even As Lawsuit Gets in the Way, Sheriff and Union Agree that “Substantial” Raises Are Due”

  1. Freddy says:

    I cannot see why rank and file should sacrifice their life and health to pay for the lawsuits that were caused by mis- management of that department. They need to take it out of the sheriff’s salary.

  2. Jason stryker says:

    Sooo. I worked for the FCSO for —– years. I am a college graduate and I now work for another agency making much more money than I made when I left Flagler. But I live in Flagler and my family is here. The reason I left…..plain and simple is Staly and Manfre! They say that they care about deputies and their pay..they do NOT! They are making 100 thousand dollars a year plus…plus plus. Deputies that have worked for the FCSO for —- years like me make barely more than a brand new deputy working for Flagler. The truth, in my opinion, is that Manfre is only concerned about his political career and Staley is only interested in his soon to be announced run for Sheriff.

  3. Former FCSO says:

    James Manfre has refused to negotiate with the PBA since day 1. He’s been trying to get the FOP and his boy Steve Carr in posit ion to take over as the union since before he won the election.

    To say he has to wait on the Federal Lawsuit is complete bullshit, as the agency has insurance through the FSA to cover such lawsuits and attorney fees.

    To blame the federal lawsuit on Fleming is just as much bullshit , as we had those briefings since Manfre was in office the first term. Unfortunately the briefings continued under Fleming as common practice. It was in fact started under Manfre around 2000, 2001.

    Of course he’s gonna agree and try to find money next year he is a slick politician, thats why hes in office now he bullshited his way in and even those who supported him are regretting it as i told them they would!
    He thinks he can win over the Deputies next year so they stop bitching about him and support him in time for next election.

  4. Enlightened says:

    Manfre is up to his old tricks with pay increases. He pushed it forward everytime it was up for a decision during his first term. Why is it that Fleming was able to give the members a 10 percent increase 3 years in a row. I am not buying what excuses he is using. Just more of the same. I feel for the employees. They should be getting paid what they are worth.

  5. HonkeyDude says:

    More reason people need to show support for their Deputies and Public Servants.
    Get your No Manfre sticker today!!!!

  6. Seminole Pride says:

    Stop comparing us to other counties like St. Johns. They have twice as many people as we do, and require twice as many deputies, and equipment. Out of the 64 counties in Florida. We, Flagler are about half the population of St. Johns. Having lived in Florida my whole life, with 2/3rd in this county, we are no where near the needs of a county like St. Johns. We are smaller in population, and smaller in land density. It was projected that Flagler County population was some day to be about the size of Cleveland, Ohio. Last time I checked Cleveland was about 400,000. We don’t need adjustments in deputies salary. It is in alignment with what our county needs. You’re doing just fine Sheriff.

  7. James says:

    No officer should be making that little amount of money. I can see starting at 40k but after 10 years the pay should be at least 55k

  8. Usnret says:

    The old timers will tell you this started farther back than 2001.

  9. unacceptable says:

    I’m one that’s been there at that 10 year mark, a Veteran and a college graduate. Grossly underpaid and highly qualified with a spotless file. No one gets in Law Enforcement to get rich but you expect to be paid for your experience, expertise, education and so on. It is beyond disheartening, more of a feeling that there is a lack of respect and a 1% raise (slap in the face) was taken away. It’s gonna get ugly (ie. people leaving) for certain if things don’t change pronto, which sadly we truly know it wont. And the cost to hire, re-train etc.. is quite substantial. The outlook sadly is bleak, and the feeling all around is not a positive one.

  10. lena Marshal says:

    Step I up Manfre give our guys the breaks they deserve, you have played your games long enough. You hired two big guys this past year, under Sheriff, and Hoffman from Bunnell, we all know they are not working for $36,000.00. The FCSO men deserve to have some peace of mind for the next few fes.
    Just Do It !

  11. Usnret says:

    The old timers will remember that this practice began well before 2001.

  12. wolley segap says:

    Isn’t the Sheriffs Office nsured? Why would a lawsuit hinder raises? Wouldn’t insurance pay for whatever payment is awarded in the lawsuit?

  13. Bethechange says:

    $400. What does that amount to after taxes? A buck a day? So this reserve goes either to the employees’ whopping 1% raise, or to pay BACK deputies who had worked for free, pretty much out of dedication and fear?
    Egotitical abuse of power. Despicable. How do they sleep at night?

  14. honestly says:

    I say decrease the Sheriffs salary and give it to the deputies.

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