Union members negotiating on behalf of Florida’s state employees tentatively agreed Wednesday to a proposal from state management, which includes a 5% wage increase for all state workers, plus additional raises for “hard-to-hire” positions.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) represents more than 40,000 state workers employed in hundreds of different positions across Florida.
AFSCME’s bargaining unit members will now vote to ratify the agreement before it goes before state lawmakers to be formally approved during next month’s legislative session.
Typically, such agreements between the state and union aren’t reached quite as smoothly, union members said – at least not anytime during the last decade. Recently, it’s been left up to the legislature to determine whether or not state workers should get a raise.
“This is certainly a first for me,” said AFSCME’s chief negotiator, Hector Ramos, at the close of Wednesday morning’s collective bargaining call.
Several other union members agreed, characterizing Wednesday’s tentative agreement as “rare.”
“I don’t remember this happening with my time in the union,” Sheron Mickens, an employee with Florida’s Department of Children and Families, told Spectrum News. “But I am satisfied. I’m happy about it … It’s a good day for state employees.”
Mickens said she’s been a member of the state workers’ union for most of her career. She has worked for nearly thirty years in DCF’s ACCESS department, determining Floridians’ eligibility for Medicaid, food and cash assistance.
Mickens said she hopes the universal 5-percent raise will help boost employee morale, retain staff and improve state agencies’ ability to serve the public.
“I think [people] will be more satisfied with the services that state workers actually provide for them,” Mickens said. “And when you have people that feel good about coming to their job, it’s always a win-win situation.”
Spectrum News previously reported on rising turnover rates among positions also represented by AFSCME in a different DCF department, the Office of Child Welfare. Reggie Brady, a longtime Child Protective Investigator (CPI) with DCF in Jacksonville, helped lead the union’s negotiations, according to an AFSCME press release.
“My co-workers and I visit homes across the state to make sure children are safe and protected, but we are challenged to keep up with our caseloads,” Brady said, according to the press release. “We are charged with protecting children’s lives, but are asked to manage 20 to 40 families—more than double the caseload recommended for keeping our families and communities safe.”
Caseload standards generally recommend that child welfare investigators take on no more than 12 new cases per month, as Spectrum News previously reported. But when departments aren’t fully staffed, extra work gets redistributed to the remaining employees.
“We have a twenty percent vacancy rate [across the state], and we do not want that to get worse,” said Richard Flamm, a research scientist with Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) “That makes it more difficult for state employees to serve the public as effectively as they can.”
Although Flamm and other union members celebrated Wednesday’s tentative agreement and expressed gratitude to Governor Ron DeSantis for proposing wage increases, they acknowledged more still needs to be done.
Specifically, AFSCME members are still awaiting information they’ve requested from the state about what exactly constitutes a “hard-to-hire” position. Workers in those “hard-to-hire” positions will receive additional 10% wage increases above the statewide average, according to the governor’s proposed budget framework. That framework also promises targeted pay adjustments for critical staff within DCF’s child protection system.
Spectrum News reached out to the governor’s office to learn more about that “hard-to-hire” criteria and has not yet heard back.
In an interview with Spectrum News, Flamm reiterated how unique Wednesday’s tentative agreement is.
“Traditionally, we’ve had difficulty preserving our purchasing power. We generally fall behind the inflation rate; that’s pretty standard,” Flamm said.
He added that all state workers would receive the promised 5 percent raises under the agreement, regardless of whether or not they themselves are AFSCME members.
“When we’re successful, everyone benefits, including the public,” Flamm said.
Source : Spectrum News