Manatee County emergency workers favor union representation

skennedy@bradenton.comDecember 20, 2012 

MANATEE -- Manatee County EMTs and paramedics have overwhelmingly voted in favor of union representation.

The final vote in an election held among county emergency workers was 74-7, with one challenged ballot, according to Michael Stone, director of organizing for the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics.

At issue was whether the county employees would be represented by the union. Voting by mail began Nov. 29 and concluded Wednesday, he said.

During budget hearings last summer, some of the county emergency medical service workers complained about inadequate salaries and shrinking benefits.

Deputy County Attorney Rob Eschenfelder confirmed the tally.

"I think the commissioners took a position and had hoped folks would not go with the union but now they've made that decision, it'll be up to management to negotiate with the union," Eschenfelder said.

In an email to county commissioners, Eschenfelder noted that after a 15-day period to allow either side to file an objection to the conduct of the voting process, the Florida Public Employee Relations Commission will issue a final order certifying the election and instructing the county to recognize the union.

Richard Griffin, who works for the county and is a union organizer, said, "I think it's going to be a good step forward and that it will help everyone out."

He said the vote went as he had expected. Manatee County employees are seeking fairness and better terms for the long run, and an end

to high employee turnover, he added.

"We're not looking for a pay raise right now, but if you're here for five or 10 years, you have something to look forward to," he said.

"Hopefully, the county will sit down at the table and not try to fight us," Griffin said.

A similar vote earlier this month among Manatee County Sheriff Office's rank-and-file deputies to let a union handle salary negotiations did not pass.

Had the measure passed, The Florida Police Benevolent Association could have provided collective bargaining for deputies below the rank of sergeant in the areas of patrol, courts and administration, said Matt Puckett, executive director of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, at the time.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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