BY JENNIFER CABRERA
The Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA) has informed its bargaining unit members at the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ASO) that it filed a class action grievance against Sheriff Watson on their behalf yesterday.
The letter says that a step increase in pay that should have been provided on October 1, 2021, has been implemented and reversed twice, once on October 1 and once on February 28, 2022. The sticking point in the negotiation is a proposal from the bargaining unit that deputies be allowed to take their cars home. The letter says the bargaining unit “was subsequently told not to waste our time on any future negotiations as the Sheriff did not intend to budge on his prior position.”
The PBA says that Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr. has not negotiated in good faith, “continually [proposing] the same exact articles that were voted down in October 2021.” On March 1, ASO General Counsel Jacob Rush sent an email to PBA President Jody Branaman that, according to the PBA, says the Sheriff “was not going to budge” from the terms he presented in September of 2021.
The letter to bargaining unit members continued, “As a PBA attorney for the last eleven years, I have never seen the issues at the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office that I am seeing under this current administration. Please know that we are working on EVERY SINGLE ISSUE that we are being advised about and although you may not know about all the things we are actively working on, I promise you we are.”
Sheriff Watson sent us the following statement in response to the letter: “We respectfully disagree with the PBA’s position. We have negotiated in good faith and are making decisions we think are best, both for the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and the citizens of Alachua County. We have presented what we believe to be a good and fair offer. The PBA’s counteroffer is, in our opinion, unreasonable. We will continue to move forward in good faith as the process continues.”
Branaman also sent a statement: “Sheriff Watson’s number one priority is to maintain public safety by investing in the men and women who keep our communities safe everyday. Yet, rather than bolstering our workforce, he has single-handedly diminished our contractual rights and benefits. Approximately 170 personnel in the Sheriff’s Department have left our agency since he took office. With staffing at critically low levels, our response times to major incidents can potentially increase significantly, putting the safety of both our officers and the public at great risk. Our county’s Sheriff’s Department ranks approximately 36 out of 67 counties in starting pay. Without a competitive compensation and benefits package, more officers will continue to leave our county, and public safety will be unnecessarily compromised. It’s time for Sheriff Watson to put public safety first and return to the bargaining table.”