AVON PARK - After filing a grievance against the City of Avon Park, an arbitrator sided with the city and dismissed allegations by a public service employee union over personnel dismissal issues.
In a complaint filed Aug. 13, 2012, by the union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3597, the union wanted to go to arbitration alleging the city targeted the union's leadership through workforce dismissals.
However, the city said the union wouldn't acknowledge the downsizing was citywide, driven by budget constraints and employee seniority, which were outlined in a collective bargaining agreement.
Over the past three years, the city cut staff from 103 full-time employees to about 50, which included those in union leadership positions. Avon Park City Manager Julian Deleon said the union alleged the city targeted union leadership through layoffs; however, he said the arbitrator, Marsha Murphy of Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, ruled against the complaint and denied the entire grievance.
Deleon said the cost of the arbitrator was $5,800 and according to the collective bargaining agreement, the AFSCME is responsible for paying, not city taxpayers.
"We were never concerned because we followed policy procedure in our collective bargaining agreement stating guidelines on how we mutually operate," he said.
In the City of Avon Park Arbitration Brief, filed by attorney Brian Koji of Allen, Norton & Blue, Tampa, it states the grievance was denied "as the overwhelming factual record shows that employees were not singled out because they were union officers."
It states that in the disputed time, 2009 to 2012, the city underwent "dramatic" changes in operation, including reduction of the workforce from 100 in 2009 to 50 in 2013, reorganization of job duties for public work employees and the downsizing of the Avon Park Police Department from 24 to three employees.
In the brief, Local 3597 asserted the city tried to dissuade employees from joining AFSCME and the city discharged staff members because they were union members, including firing Allan Drake, president, and Joy Estredge, vice-president, and laying off Richard Conklin, president.
In addition, the grievance stated Vice-President Sally Perry and Secretary Ann Shrum were "harassed" and Perry was "subjected to humiliating working conditions."
The union was asking the city to quit going after union officials, re-establish positions and stop harassment and "expunge records of all disciplines on Union leaders."
Hector Ramos, AFSCME Region 3 director in Tampa, said he was obviously not pleased with the dismissal of the complaints. As of Tuesday, he said he hadn't had a chance to read the brief, but knew the result.
"It's disappointing," said Ramos, a union member for 33 years who now works with negotiations and arbitrations for AFSCME locals in 18 counties "It's like a discrimination case; you know you're discriminated against, but it's so hard to prove."
Conklin, AFSCME president and member for about five years, was laid-off July 10 while working for the city's street department and sanitation department. He said he felt some of the employees were "run off" and the city wanted to "do away" with the union. He said he was also disappointed the union didn't step up to help when the layoff was imminent.
"They (Avon Park) wanted to do away with the union. He (Deleon) wanted to be able to have who he wants in, instead of using who we already had," he said.
Deleon said he was confident about the results of the complaints.
"As an organization, we have dealt with a number of baseless complaints. As these cases have moved forward, we have prevailed on every instance," he wrote in an e-mail Dec. 16.
In addition to the personnel issue, another complaint filed by AFSCME alleging the city was improperly operating its water utility system by not fielding enough staff was also dismissed.