Pasco County has rejected a special magistrate's ruling that union employees should get a 3 percent pay raise.
Teamsters Local 79, which represents more than 1,000 county employees, returned to the bargaining table Wednesday with the county's labor attorney, Jim Cherof, and personnel director Barbara De Simone.
The two sides have been attempting to negotiate their first contract since late 2010 and have been at impasse for a year. In February, they met with special magistrate George Edward Larney, who was appointed by the Public Employees Relations Commission to bring resolution to the contract dispute.
But Cherof said Larney's report, which he released in July, had a "decidedly anti-management and pro-union tone." He said the report "has driven us further apart than bringing us closer together."
Larney sided with the Teamsters on a proposal to give union members a 3 percent salary bonus to reimburse them for the new state-mandated retirement contribution. County employees haven't received a pay raise for the past four years, and they aren't slated to receive one in fiscal 2013, which starts Oct. 1.
He scolded the county for "intimating" that the wage freeze would end in 2013 while making no appropriation in the upcoming budget for pay increases. The union said the bonuses would cost about $1.1 million.
"Everyone from the county commissioners on down wants to give the employees a raise, but there's only so much money to go around," De Simone said.
Larney also sided with the Teamsters on issues related to overtime pay, holidays, grievance procedures and breaks. But on the most important issue, seniority rights, he recommended the sides form a joint committee on the matter.
John Sholtes, a business agent for the Teamsters, said basic seniority rights are standard in most every union contract. "I can't express to you how important it is to our members," he said.
Seniority is especially critical to Pasco employees since the county has laid off 65 workers in the past three years. Union members want the ability to "bump" those with less seniority in the same department. In other words, the last employee hired would be subject to the layoff.
"We can't have a bargaining unit employee with 25 years of service just get kicked to the curb," Sholtes said. That's what happened last year when three parks employees with a combined 66 years of service were downsized, he said. "What happened in that situation is what we can't accept."
Cherof said the county compromised on the seniority issue when negotiating with the firefighters union. Those sides reached a tentative agreement this month on a new contract after more than a year of impasse.