BY JENNIFER CABRERA
Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr. sent a letter to all employees on Wednesday, laying out several measures he said he had taken to recruit, retain, and reward employees. The list included a 3% cost of living adjustment (inflation is currently at 7.9%) and what he called a “simplified… take-home vehicle policy,” addressing several issues where there is a gap between the positions of the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) bargaining members and the Sheriff. Watson also announced an increase in the education allowance and two more paid holidays (Good Friday and Juneteenth). In the letter, Watson said he had “extended these benefits… to all our employees,” but the “salary increase, FTD pay increase, extra holidays, new vehicle policy, and education advancement benefit was, unfortunately, not ratified by the Deputy Sheriffs… pursuant to their union right… I have re-extended the offer should they reconsider.”
Later that day, Stephanie Webster from the Florida PBA sent a letter to Watson, giving her opinion that Watson’s letter was “another unfair labor practice” because it “discusses multiple issues that are currently open in negotiations… As we explained to your team, it is abundantly clear that you and your team are refusing to negotiate in good faith.” She said that the communication with bargaining unit members “is considered direct dealing… Direct dealing is another unfair labor practice.”
Webster’s letter says Watson’s letter “is misleading and states as fact issues that cannot be true as the deputy’s unit has not ratified any change in the existing contract. Your letter states that you are changing issues that have not been properly negotiated or ratified. Your letter is clearly intended to create divisiveness and cause confusion.” She concludes with a request to “cease and desist directly dealing with our bargaining members… and in the future, please direct such correspondence to the PBA. It was our sincere hope to have a productive and fruitful relationship with you as the new sheriff, but your actions have continuously frustrated those hopes.”
Jody Branaman, President of the North Central Florida PBA, released the following statement: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Now that Sheriff Watson is facing a lawsuit over his unfair labor practices, he is re-sending our members the very same deal they voted down just a few months ago with the hope that they’ve forgotten how disingenuous the first offer was. In addition, it is ironic that the chief law enforcement officer in our county continues to violate well-established labor law, which prohibits a public employer from bypassing our bargaining unit by directly negotiating with our members. Our members will not be fooled nor divided. We will continue to fight for a fair and equitable benefits package that invests in retaining the best men and women to keep our County safe.”
As this continues to develop, Alachua Chronicle will continue to report on information we receive about the grievance filed by the PBA and the Sheriff’s response.