MIAMI – Years may have gone by, but AFSCME Local 161 members and retirees never quit. Their back pay case went all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, but now they’ve won and will soon receive checks for their share of an $800,000 settlement.
In 2010, members were negotiating a contract when many local and state politicians cut government budgets around the country, including the City of Hialeah outside Miami. AFSCME members said the concessions that management sought were excessive, but they continued to negotiate and never quit serving their community.
The city declared an impasse and requested a hearing through the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC). Shortly thereafter, the city passed a resolution that reduced wages by almost 30% and pushed more of the cost of health insurance on the employees.
“The city was clearly afraid we were going to win and so they tried to change the rules in the middle of the game,” said David Alonso, president of AFSCME Local 161 and a foreman in the Water and Sewer Department. “But AFSCME members don’t let our rights be taken from us without a fight. So, we filed an unfair labor practice charge that the city failed to bargain in good faith, and we won.”
Yet their fight wasn’t finished. Even after the workers’ 2011 victory, the city continued to appeal and drag out the process year after year as members continued to go without the compensation they deserved.
“Throughout this entire process we kept the financial health of the city in mind,” said Alonso. “While our members and retirees deserve the more than $1.8 million over the relevant period, we know that is not realistic. So, while we pushed hard, we also were practical, and we feel the final settlement we won reflects that.”
Local 161 members had to deal with multiple lawsuits and delays, not just from the city but other interest groups as well, all wanting their say in the size and scope of the settlement.
Finally, the Florida Supreme Court in March agreed with an attorney for AFSCME Florida that the court had no jurisdiction over one final lawsuit on the matter, paving the way for members and retirees to celebrate a hard-fought victory.
“This is not just about winning this case, it is about showing that we will fight hard to uphold our contract and that we will do so in a way that puts the needs of our members, their families and the community we serve first,” said Alonso.