Teamsters add 20,000 corrections officers in Florida

TAMPA, Fla. - Winning more than half of the ballots cast, the Teamsters were elected as bargaining representative for almost 20,000 correctional officers statewide in Florida, the union announced on Nov. 17.

The final tally showed 4,097 for the Teamsters, 3,015 for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, 116 for the Independent Union of Police Associations, 154 for no union, 126 void votes, and nine challenged ballots.

By winning more than half the vote, the Teamsters avoided a runoff. Assuming PBA doesn't contest the results, the Teamsters will be certified as the bargaining representative on Dec. 1, said Ken Wood, president of a Tampa-based local that led the statewide campaign. The corrections officers will have their own separate local.

Key issues in the drive were respect on the job, job security - particularly with a threat to privatize Florida's prison system -- and lack of raises for six years, corrections officers Glynn Reeder and Kimberly Schultz told a telephone press conference.

GOP Gov. Rick Scott has floated the idea of privatizing the Sunshine State's prisons, ceding them to a for-profit firm, and the overwhelmingly Republican legislature could go along. But Wood noted several anti-worker measures went down the drain in Tallahassee in the last legislative session, thanks to strong labor lobbying.

And the PBA filed suit to stop any privatization plan, a suit the Teamsters support, Wood said. He praised PBA for doing so.

"The biggest reason we voted for the Teamsters is we had no representation" either in bargaining with Corrections Department officials or at the state level, Reeder said. "We had no raises in six years and every time an officer came up for discipline, it occurred" with no acquittals or modifications, despite any contrary evidence.

"It's a really strong organization out there in the field" that will work "to give us the recognition we deserve," Schultz added.

Wood and Teamsters Organizing Director Jeff Farmer said the union has started building a grassroots organization among the officers to make their voice "heard loud and clear in Tallahassee" on privatization or any other anti-worker schemes.

"We'll do everything to make sure [the corrections officers] are part of the political process" in the state capital, "so state officials don't take away their jobs and benefits," Wood added. And since a large share of Teamsters are registered Republicans, Farmer noted, the new unionists will lobby both sides of the aisle.

Written by Mark Gruenberg for Press Associates International.

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