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PBA and Sheriff Watson no closer to agreement

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. – Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr., and the North Central Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA), the organization that bargains for Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) deputies, are still unable to come to an agreement regarding their 2020-2022 contract.

Vehicles

The most contentious issue is the ability for deputies to take home agency vehicles. Jody Branaman, PBA President, says all the other Sheriff’s agencies in Florida permit deputies to take vehicles home; Sheriff Watson says he understands that removing this ability will have a “negative impact” on deputies who live over the county line in neighboring counties, but “I must also fulfill my responsibility to the tax-payers of Alachua County.”

The current contract allows deputies to take vehicles home if they live in a county contiguous to Alachua County, as long as their residence is no further than 10 miles outside the Alachua County line.

The proposed contract grandfathers in current employees and allows Sheriff Watson to give case-by-case permission to new hires to drive their vehicles home. Deputies who move after the effective date in the contract (April 28, 2022) and live outside Alachua County will no longer be able to drive their vehicles home. Branaman said the removal of the ability to drive vehicles home was a major factor in the union membership’s vote against the contract last fall and that the current contract is valid through December 31, 2022, so Watson should not be changing the terms as of April 28.

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Pay and steps

Under the existing contract, all deputies were supposed to advance one step in the Pay Step Plan and receive a 2.5% pay increase, but those increases never happened. Branaman said they have been implemented and reversed twice, once on October 1, 2021, and once on February 28, 2022. 

Watson is proposing that all deputies forego the step increase in 2021 and instead receive a 3% pay increase, with the Step Plan resuming in 2022. The proposed contract promises that deputies will be paid the 3% raise, retroactive to October 1, 2021, when the contract is ratified. Watson says he is negotiating with the County Commission for bigger raises in the next fiscal year but cannot make any promises until the budget is finalized. Branaman says the language in the proposed contract is unclear about when the step increase will resume in the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

Holidays

While all other County employees got paid holidays on Good Friday and Juneteenth this year, the lack of a new contract meant that deputies did not get the two additional holidays. Watson is proposing retroactively giving deputies 16 hours of annual leave to compensate them.

Next steps

The PBA still has an outstanding grievance against Sheriff Watson, and that will next be heard in court on July 14. In the meantime, the two sides are holding meetings, and the union will meet tonight to consider whether they want to vote on the proposed contract.

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