As 1,500 rally in Tallahassee to oppose state service cuts
Special Master slams Jeb Bush plan for state employees
In an attempt to reward his campaign contributors and corporate buddies, Governor Bush has put privatization of state services on the fast track this legislative session with his so-called "Service First" plan (House Bill 369 and Senate Bill 466).
Meanwhile, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union which represents over 70,000 public employees throughout Florida, has been organizing around the state to defeat Bush's plan, including a 1,500 person rally in Tallahassee on April 9 and packed town hall meetings from Tallahassee to Miami.
But let's take a break from the action for a minute for a quick pop quiz:
Who said the following referring to Governor Bush's "Service First" plan?
"[I] firmly believe that the state cannot press on with its plans to eviscerate the benefits of career service employment, and at the same time seek to attract and retain the most qualified staff. It is not logical. It will not work. Quality workers will leave and the result will eventually be "Service: Worst" instead of "Service First".
(a) AFSCME International President Gerald McEntee
(b) AFSCME Local 3340 President Sharon Bauer
(c) Alachua County Labor Party member Eric Piotrowski
(d) Mark Sherman, a University of Houston Management Professor
If you said (d) Mark Sherman, you win!
"It is not logical. It will not work"
Sherman was brought in as the "Special Master," or independent arbitrator, in the contract dispute between AFSCME and the Florida Legislature, which is hell-bent on pushing through Bush's "Service First" plan.
During collective bargaining between the Legislature and public employees (who are barred by law from striking) if either side declares an impasse in negotiations a "special master" is brought in as an impartial judge to hear both sides. In February the Legislature declared an impasse in their contract negotiations with AFSCME, which is fighting to protect on the job rights for state workers.
That's where Mark Sherman comes in.
After hearing arguments from both AFSCME and the Legislature's labor negotiators, Sherman released an 80-page report on April 3 slamming Bush's "Service First" plan as "Service Worst", saying at one point "It is not logical. It will not work".
He went on to say that the state had failed to provide "any factual or logical basis" for its plan to move nearly 16,000 workers to at-will employment.
An "insane approach"
One of the most dangerous parts of "Service First" is replacing the "just cause" standard with "sound discretion". Senator Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, called this proposal an "insane approach" that no other state or federal system uses.
Currently when management wants to fire, reassign, demote or discipline an employee they must prove "just cause" for such action. Bush's plan would replace this standard with requiring managers to exercise "sound discretion" when firing people and switches the burden of proof onto the employee. Sherman found there to be no reasoning behind this change:
"No evidence was brought forth to indicate that the current system of career service protections resulted in an exorbitant expense or the retention of unqualified individuals. In other words, there was no factual evidence brought forward to show that the system was broken or dysfunctional. On the other hand, the Special Master found that some of the State's proposals in relation to Article 7 would not only be unworkable, but could also lead to a reduction in the prospects for prompt, peaceful and just settlement of disputes between the Parties.
"A prime example of this problem was the suggestion that employees should bear the burden of proving that they were discharged improperly. This would be analogous to asking accused criminals to defend themselves before the State laid out charges against them. From the standpoint of procedural fairness, it would be heresy. From the standpoint of practical application, it would be unworkable
"Another example was the suggestion that the "just cause" standard should be replaced with a new standard called "sound discretion." This belies an understanding of the historical significance of the "just cause" standard to civil service protections. A fundamental component in the State's ability to prove that a personnel action is not motivated by patronage is its responsibility to demonstrate that it had just cause for its actions. At the hearing, the State did not explain how its proposed new standard could effectively maintain protection against patronage without maintaining the requirement that the State prove that it acted for just cause...Finally, the State provided no examples of any other jurisdiction that used a "sound discretion" standard, let alone moved from the "just cause" standard to a "sound discretion" standard. By stark contrast, the "just cause" standard is used throughout the United States and, in one form or another, in many countries throughout the world."
As the Iguana went to press the following news came in from AFSCME's website (www.afscmefl.org): In response to the 1,500 union members and supporters that rallied in Tallahassee on April 9, Senator Rudy Garcia amended SB 466 to restore "reasonable cause" in firing and keeping the burden of proof on management in disciplinary cases.
The Legislature Breaks the Law
Under the Florida Statutes, the state and the union have 20 days to review, consider and discuss a report by the Special Master in an attempt to resolve a contract negotiation impasse.
One day after the Special Master released his report, the Joint Select Committee on Collective Bargaining, chaired by Sen. Rudy Garcia and Rep. Frederick Brummer, barreled ahead, holding hearings on the contract impasse in clear violation of Florida Law and possibly the Florida Constitution. Public employees in Florida have the constitutional right to collectively bargain.
AFSCME obtained a Temporary Restraining Order against the Joint Select Committee holding any hearings and refused to participate in the illegal proceedings. Senate President John McKay and House Speaker Tom Feeney refused to call off the committee meeting.
On April 10, Circuit Court Judge L. Ralph Smith issued notice that he is requiring Representatives Feeney and Brummer and Senators McKay and Garcia "Show cause as to why they should not be held in contempt of court" for violating the restraining order. A hearing will be held on April 19.
The Council of 100 & the push for privatization
The illegal actions of the legislature trying to railroad through Bush's "Service First" plan reveal the true intentions behind the proposals. All along the Governor and the Legislators backing "Service First" have claimed that the plan is aimed at increasing efficiency and managerial flexibility.
But is efficiency or flexibility really worth breaking the law? It is becoming increasingly clear that the real intent of "Service First" is to privatize state services, meaning millions of dollars in profits for private corporations at the expense of taxpayers who will see the quality and availability of vital state services eroded.
"Service First" is a plan conceived and promoted mainly by the Council of 100, an organization of business leaders who stand to make millions in profits off of privatized state services.
In a recent letter to the Senate committee debating the plan, Council Chairman Charles Cobb and Vice Chairman Al Hoffman wrote, "We were pleased to see that Gov. Bush's Service First program incorporates many of our proposals". Pleased but certainly not surprised.
In a January editorial in several state newspapers Hoffman laid out the "Service First" plan of running the public sector like a private corporation, months before the legislative session opened.
Hoffman came right out and said it: Business leaders are tired of competing with the public sector and want lots of state services to be privatized. And they are going to do something about it:
"Florida's current civil service system is archaic, cumbersome and inefficient, and it prevents mangers from providing optimum service to Floridians. Florida's top business leaders believe we must move now from a system that is unduly protecting permanent career service employees to one that enables their performance...
"The Florida Council of 100 believes that protected status employment is no longer necessary...
"The state must mirror the private sector by developing greater bonus and reward programs. Rather than across-the-board pay increases, we need to tie compensation, raises and bonuses to performance...
"The question is not whether it can be done. The question is, how soon can we do it? The Florida Council of 100 believes the time to take action is now."
Jumping onto the bandwagon on April 10 was the Associated Industries of Florida (AIF). AIF held a press conference when SB 466 got out of committee hailing it and has started running radio ads supporting the Bush's "Service First" plan.
Gerald McEntee, AFSCME International President had this answer to The Council of 100 and AIF, "Privatization, layoffs, budget cuts and service cuts. That's what Governor Bush calls 'Service First.' We call it 'Service Last -- and Business First."
The Failure of Privatization
At a recent Town Hall Meeting hosted by the Alachua County Legislative Delegation, Lou Piotrowski (no relation to the author) urged lawmakers to vote against "Service First" based on her experiences with privatization.
Piotrowski's disabled son was a client of Vocational Rehab. "Voc Rehab works only marginally for cognitively disabled people," she said.
So when she heard the agency was going to be privatized she asked what the differences would be for her and her son. "Well...we'll be private" they told her implying that would be the only change. That wasn't the case.
"They knew less and offered less service" explained Piotrowski. When she called to find out more about job training for her son they said they didn't really know if it was available, even after telling her it was.
Piotrowski ended by saying, "The people at Voc Rehab had been really nice, but the private company seemed very confused about going on."
This is one of many examples of private companies promising the world when pushing for privatization only to trick taxpayers in their pursuit for profits. In 1998, Lockheed Martin and Maximus cost Florida $4.5 million dollars to collect just over $160,000 in child support payments. The State was forced to end their contracts early.
Funeral for State Services, April 21
On the heels of the April 9 rally which produced some changes in the Senate version of "Service First" ("This victory for state workers transforms SB 466 from an awful bill to one that is merely very bad," reads the AFSCME website), AFSCME is keeping the heat on.
Locally, AFSCME is organizing a "Funeral for State Services" on Saturday, April 21. The march will begin at 10 a.m. at the NE corner of the O'Connell Center parking lot (behind the lit-up sign) and will lead to a rally on the steps of Tigert Hall at 11 a.m.
For more information or to get involved call the AFSCME office at 375-3359. Check out their website which is updated daily: www.afscme.org/florida
Mark Piotrowski is a Co-Chair of the Alachua County Labor Party and a member of AFSCME Local 3340. He works at UF as an at-will employee.
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