Sheriff Ordered To Sign Collective Bargaining Agreement

For many years, Sheriff Mike Scott of Lee County, Florida has opposed the unionization of the County’s deputy sheriffs. In 2009, when deputies were considering joining a union, Scott ended an email about the unionization effort with the comment, “I am reminded of a popular saying, pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.”

Finally, in 2011, the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA) was elected as the bargaining representative for deputy sheriffs in Lee County, Florida. The County and IUPA began negotiating their initial collective bargaining agreement. The County’s bargaining team included Scott’s in-house counsel and two captains Scott appointed to represent him in negotiations. During bargaining, Scott or his designee reviewed and approved contract articles before they were tentatively agreed to by his bargaining team.

Scott’s position in bargaining was that the collective bargaining agreement should not vary from whatever was contained in the policies and procedures of the Sheriff’s Department. Negotiations were arduous, but eventually a tentative agreement was reached on all open issues on January 27, 2014. However, things fell apart when Scott and his representatives attempted to make over 200 changes to the tentative agreements and eventually refused to sign the contract.

IUPA filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Scott, alleging that he refused to bargain in good faith. Florida’s Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) began its decision in the case by noting that not every attempt to abandon a tentative agreement indicates bad-faith bargaining: “We have held that an employer’s revocation of a tentative agreement is not a per se violation, but it also must be viewed in light of the parties’ total conduct. There must be a plausible rationale for a withdrawal, particularly as here, when the withdrawal is on a number of contractual provisions.

“Scott contends that a plausible rationale for withdrawal of the tentative agreements exists in that it was necessary to (1) clarify vague language; (2) clarify contract language where it conflicted with LCSO policy; and (3) define the parameters of his discretion. First, the record does not support Scott’s contention regarding vagueness. The parties negotiated for several months on contract language, and throughout the negotiations, Scott or his designee reviewed and approved contract Articles before his bargaining team TA’d them. We have not credited the testimony of Scott’s attorney that ‘I viewed my job as being a scribe, simply trying to memorialize whatever people wanted in a way that was enforceable, and understandable, and would actually reduce the conflict in the future.’ Rather, he intentionally ignored TA’d Articles that the parties had agreed to and manipulated contract language in attempting to ensure that Sheriff Scott had unfettered decision-making capability to address issues later.

“Furthermore, other than indicating his instructions came ‘from my bosses,’ the attorney never explained where his authority came from to make over 200 changes to more than half of the Articles in the January 27 CBA. There is no evidence that IUPA authorized Scott’s attorney to make the extensive changes he made to the January 27 CBA. In sum, [we are] not persuaded that the alleged clarification of ‘vague language,’ clarification of language that conflicts with LCSO policy, or defining Sheriff Scott’s discretion present a plausible rationale for Sheriff Scott’s withdrawal and repudiation of previously agreed-to contract provisions.”

PERC also found that Scott unlawfully delayed and refused to sign the agreement reached by the parties. PERC accepted Scott’s assertion that he and his bargaining team needed a reasonable time to review the January 27 CBA. However, PERC concluded, Scott and his representatives “were not merely engaged in a review of the January 27 CBA. Rather, the LCSO essentially compared the January 27 CBA to the 1,500-page LCSO policy and deleted portions of the January 27 CBA that its managers suggested were unnecessary, notwithstanding the agreements the parties reached during negotiations. In addition, Scott’s attorney changed or deleted contract provisions that he believed were unnecessary based on recent changes in LCSO policy.

“There is no dispute that Sheriff Scott did not sign the January 27 CBA. Florida law requires that ‘any collective bargaining agreement reached by the negotiators shall be reduced to writing, and such agreement shall be signed by the chief executive officer and the bargaining agent.’ Here, there is no dispute that the January 27 CBA was not signed and submitted for ratification.”

By way of remedy, PERC ordered Scott to reinstate and sign the January 27 collective bargaining agreement, and required him to pay IUPA’s attorney fees.

Sheriff of Lee County, Order No. 15U-098 (Fla. PERC 2015).