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Union battle brews as Teamsters try to usurp the PBA

First, the Teamsters filed an ethics complaint against Gov. Rick Scott for signing a bill to privatize 19 Florida prisons after accepting campaign cash for his inaugural committee from the two largest companies that could benefit from the deal, the GEO Group and Corrections Corp. of America.

The Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents 13,000 of the state's 20,000 correctional and probation officers, had already filed suit against the gov for that very issue. (It won the case, by the way, and Scott hasn't asked for an appeal.)

Now comes a complaint by the Teamsters on behalf of prison workers and against the Department of Corrections. The complaint, to be filed today with the U.S. Labor Department, alleges that the department "systematically short changes workers out of pay" and asks the labor department to investigate.

Their grievance: since DOC changed its rules and increased went from screening random prison employees to every prison employee, prison guards now have to wait as much as 20 minutes after they've gotten their gear but before they can clock in for pay.

It's practice that Teamster's lawyer Patricia Ireland believes violates a 1987 federal court ruling that required that once workers are at their work site and have picked up any equipment that is considered "integral and indepensible" to their jobs, they must be compensated. For some employees, it could amount to 200 hours of uncompensated time each year, said Michael Filler, of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. "We want to stop the wage theft."

The PBA has another answer. It's sorry, tried that. "We took this on in the early 90s and won,'' said Matt Puckett, director of the PBA. Then two rulings, one out of the 11th Circuit and another out of the U.S. Supreme Court, reversed that decision, however and ruled that the state has sovereign immunity over these kinds of claims. "They said you can't sue your employer over that. They're immune."

Puckett believes the complaints, and accompanying press conferences, are the Teamsters' attempt "to get their name in the paper."This shows a little bit of their lack of understanding of the State of Florida and federal law.''

Ballots will be distributed to corrections officers next week in the election to see who will serve as their collective bargaining representative in salary and labor negotiations with the state. They'll be able to choose between the PBA, the Teamsters and others, or none at all.

Both sides say they will be the more aggressive advocate but it comes at a time when Scott and Legislative leaders say they are determined to undercut the unions by allowing for private prisons, which don't hire union workers, to take over dozens of state-run prisons.

The Teamsters' believe they have a good chance at winning at the ballot box. "The police association hasn't done anything about this problem,'' Filler said. "The PBA has been ineffective in the last 7 years not getting any pay increase and they were on guard last year through changes in the retirement system."

Puckett acknowledged that the lack of a pay raise is a "shortcoming" but notes that no one else in state government got pay raises either. He thinks the PBA will prevail.

"This is a natural thing in the labor movement,'' Puckett said. "It’s like any elected official, we can be challenged.''