Mayor warns Miami-Dade transit workers not to consider a sick-out next week
Despite rumors of an upcoming work stoppage by Miami-Dade Transit employees to protest proposed labor concessions, the transport union says it opposes a sick-out — and the county mayor is threatening to take a hard line.
For the past twenty-five years the Metro-Dade Transit Agency has had some 19 directors. None of them ended their tenure under happy circumstances. They were either forced out or they resigned. The problem, according to transit and county pundits, has not been the rank and file but upper level management along with a good dose of political intervention from the county elected officials. As one manager puts it “they hire you for your expertise, but do not listen to your advice. They expect you to hang your brains on the coat rack when you come to work and not use it until you go home!”
On executive assistance to the Transit Director, Judy Seidner, once told me “You never say no to the County Administrator.” Taken aback I asked: “Well, what if you don’t have what he wants?” She replied” Oh, you never say no to the County Administrator!” That little episode explained much to me about Karl Jung’s theory of synchronicity and how small events can line up and lead to larger impacts. Hence, we have the present Metro-Dade Transit Agency.
Is labor strife brewing in the wake of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s proposal to wring steep concessions from government workers? The county’s interim transit director issued a stern warning Wednesday threatening to fire workers who participate in a rumored work stoppage next week.
And Gimenez advised anyone with “pressing appointments’’ on Monday or Tuesday to “make alternate transportation arrangements, if possible, in case of delays or service disruption’’ to bus and rail service. The warning to workers, authored by Yselta Llort, said it has “come to management’s attention” that transit employees may call in sick en masse those days, potentially interrupting public transit service across Greater Miami. The sick-out is designed to protest looming pay and benefit cuts.
“We strongly advise you not to participate,” Llort wrote.
The Transport Workers Union top brass said Wednesday it has no plans to lead a work stoppage, though acknowledged such a move has been percolating within the ranks of the 3,200-employee agency, which operates the Metrorail and Metrobus systems.
“We work in the interest of the public,” said union head John Bland, declaring his firm opposition to any work stoppage. “Some members just aren’t happy and they have a right to be, with what is trying to be done to employees. But you don’t take it to that level.” Regarding efforts to organize a work stoppage, Bland added: “We are trying to nip it in the bud.”
The memo and rumors of workers staying home come as Gimenez is trying to ink new labor contracts that double county workers’ healthcare contributions — from 5 to 10 percent of an employee’s salary — and erase a recent 3 percent salary hike. Separately, the state has mandated that workers contribute 3 percent of their pay toward pensions.
The employee concessions, along with the elimination of nearly 1,300 positions county-wide, are key components in Gimenez’s plan to close a budget gap of about $400 million for the coming fiscal year. If approved, the county’s overall budget — which includes running Miami International Airport, the Port of Miami and the transit system — would be $6.1 billion, and the total employee count would be slightly more than 26,000.
County commissioners have already signaled support for Gimenez’s plan by voting to lower the property tax rate to a level that leaves them little wiggle room for avoiding employee concessions — beyond possibly laying off even more employees — when the budget is finalized next month. The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
On Wednesday, transit union leader Bland made no bones about the fact that he’s fiercely against the salary and benefits cuts, even as he opposes a work stoppage next week. “It is grossly unfair,” Bland said of Gimenez’s proposal. “We hope to work it out at the bargaining table.”
For his part, Gimenez said contingency plans are being formulated if bus drivers and train operators do not show up next week. He said plans call for utilizing part-time workers and supervisors to fill in for any absent workers. He also said that bus routes would not be cancelled but the schedule could be slowed.
Llort’s memo warned that any workers who don’t show up next week better have a good excuse, writing that they “will be required to produce documentation deemed appropriate by management.” Gimenez said if transit workers stay home, “We are not going to look kindly on it, whatsoever.”
Ms. Ysela Llort is the Interim Director of Miami-Dade Transit. She was appointed to this position by Mayor Carlos Gimenez in August 2011. Prior to serving as MDT’s Interim Director, Ms. Llort served as an Assistant County Manager, responsible for the County’s major transportation departments, which included Miami-Dade Transit, Public Works, Miami-Dade Aviation, and Seaport (Port of Miami), as well as the County’s Consumer Services Department. Ms. Llort also was responsible for overseeing the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust and the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Before working for Miami-Dade County, Ms. Llort was the Florida Department of Transportation’s Assistant Secretary for Intermodal Systems Development. As Assistant Secretary, Ms. Llort was responsible for the executive management and operation of the Department’s planning, environmental management and public transportation programs. Ms. Llort directed the long range and strategic planning and formulation of policy for developing capital improvement and investment plans for the State’s intermodal transportation facilities.