Miami-Dade Police union agree to pay cuts to avoid layoffs

MIAMI, FL &#8211 Miami-Dade police union members on Monday begrudgingly but overwhelmingly passed a new contract that will slash their paychecks — but save the jobs of their colleagues.

The three-year contract will save the county $56 million by cutting certain incentive pay and overtime for court appearances and holidays, while imposing fees for take-home patrol cars. The vote was gut-wrenching, but saved the jobs of at least 200 of the department’s newer officers.

“I’m ecstatic,” said officer Jonathan Grossman, 31, who joined the department in January and would have been one of the first to be ousted because layoffs are calculated by seniority. “I’m proud of the members of the department who came together and really showed their unity for the younger officers, even in these tough economic times.”

The turnout was considered high: About 3,500 members voted, more than half of the union’s nearly 6,000 members that include employees from police, corrections and animal services department. Ninety percent of the voters approved the deal, according to the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association.

That means the Miami-Dade County Commission on Tuesday will vote to accept the new contract.

“This is a clear example of our unity,’’ PBA President John Rivera said late Monday. “We stand together. We will die together. We will protect our family – from the youngest rookie to the one who has been sacrificing for 30 years.”

But for officers, the pain isn’t over either.

The county is still seeking an additional $18 million in cuts from the department, and commissioners will decide later this month whether employees must pay an additional 5 percent of their salary toward their health insurance. Union members already contribute 5 percent toward health care costs.

“We still have one more hurdle to go,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Monday night. “But I’m very happy they passed it. It was a fair deal for everybody.”

Gimenez had called for $239 million in cuts from 10 employee unions, including $74 million from police. The county commission, in September, approved a budget with those cuts already built in.

Now, eight of 10 unions have reached tentative or finalized deals, Gimenez said. The remaining two: unions representing the county’s water and sewer department, and transit employees.

Monday’s crucial vote came one month after the union and county administrators struck a tentative deal after months of tense negotiations.

Negotiations had stalled by October, when Gimenez threatened to lay off 90 officers if a new deal was not reached by Nov. 1. But the pink slips were put on hold after the county struck its deal with firefighters.

For police, thousands of PBA members flocked to cast their ballots Monday at three polling sites.

The vote was emotional. Many officers felt the firefighters union got a “sweetheart” deal that avoided deep cuts.

Nubia Azrak, a Miami-Dade narcotics detective and union board member, voted for the deal, though she described her decision as “bittersweet.”

“We’re tying to minimize the impact,” she said of how the budget woes could have affected the police department. “It’s very hard, especially for all of us who risk our lives. People forget we die in the line of duty, that we get shot at.”

For Miami-Dade Officer Mark Slimak, a 14-year veteran who is specializes in nabbing drunk drivers, the decision was clear. He voted no.

He will be particularly affected because he works the midnight shift and frequently appears in court in the morning. The contract slashes incentive pay for officers who work nights, as well as overtime for court appearances.

“I couldn’t in good conscience vote to take over $30,000 a year from my family. That’s food out of their mouths,” said Slimak, a married father of one.

From The Miami Herald.