News Column

Miami-Dade Commissioners Reach Accords With Three Unions

Oct. 2, 2012

Charles Rabin and Patricia Mazzei

Miami-Dade commissioners ratified employee-union contracts with three of nine collective bargaining units Tuesday morning and are close to agreements with two others, a positive development after months of negotiations between those unions and Mayor Carlos Gimenez's administration.

The agreements will return a 4 percent healthcare contribution to many of the county's nearly 26,000 employees. They had been paying a total 9 percent of their base pay toward healthcare costs.

The move had no effect on the county's recently passed $5.9 billion operating budget, as Gimenez had already set aside $23 million to cover the giveback. The agreements, which also redesigned employee health insurance plans, were reached with unions representing aviation, solid waste and general employees.

The water and sewer union, and two police bargaining units -- representing supervisors and rank-and-file workers -- have signed off on the return of the base pay but have yet to vote on a healthcare plan redesign intended to raise co-pays to avoid a 20-percent hike in premiums for dependents, such as spouses or children.

The transit union, and two general service bargaining units have yet to vote.

The agreements reached with aviation, general employees and solid waste passed by a 12-1 vote, with only Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, one of two commissioners up for reelection next month, voting against.

The 4-percent base-pay concession was imposed by a majority of commissioners earlier this year to backfill the 2011-12 budget and avoid more than 100 employee layoffs.

Mayor Gimenez, reelected in August despite some union opposition, particularly from the Police Benevolent Association, wanted to extend the concession for the 2012-13 budget year that began Monday. But commissioners said no.

Commissioners on Tuesday will also consider several measures aimed at beefing up a dangerous-dog ordinance that some people say lacks teeth.

The proposals, submitted by Commissioners Jose "Pepe" Diaz and Sally Heyman, would mandate insurance on dangerous dogs, allow cops to confiscate the dogs, create an online registry with pictures and addresses of dogs deemed dangerous, and double most fines -- including those for attacking other pets or humans -- to $1,000.

Under county law, a dog is considered dangerous if it attacks another animal or a person without provocation and causes severe injury or death.

The move to insert heft into the dangerous dog ordinance comes on the heels of an overwhelming August vote that kept in place a ban on ownership of pit bulls in Miami-Dade County. In November, voters will say whether they would be willing to tax themselves to raise about $20 million a year for a new county Animal Services center, with the long-term goal of eliminating euthanasia. Though the vote is non-binding, if approved it could generate support for implementing the tax next year.

Another proposal by Diaz would make it illegal to keep dogs alone on rooftops, even if they're put there to protect property. The board gave initial approval to that measure Tuesday morning.

Other items the commission is scheduled to tackle are the creation of a council that would study ways to generate income for the Ronald Regan Equestrian Center at Tropical Park, and a financial settlement with a produce grower at Homestead General Aviation Airport.

In 2002 the county leased 430 acres at its southern-most airport to Wright Way Farms Corp. Three years later, after learning the company had subleased some of the property, the county ordered Wright Way off the land. Wright Way filed a lawsuit, and now the county is prepared to pay the firm $225,000, acknowledging it never sought a court ruling when it evicted the tenant.

Source: (c)2012 The Miami Herald. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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