The EMS Union in Okaloosa County has begun to look a lot like Don Quixote. Four months after all non-union employees got a 5% raise, the EMS employees, represented by a trade union machine out of the northeast, were able to avoid an impasse and get their constituents a deal. 

 

Of course, that deal was for the same raise as everyone else, minus their dues paid to the union. 

 

“This [process] took us a long time to get us back to where we started,” Commissioner Nathan Boyles said before the 5-0 vote to approve the collective bargaining agreement. 

 

In addition to the late pay raise, the union’s members received some fringe benefits. They received a stipend that will almost make up the money they lost if they had received a 5% raise along with every other county employee in October, incentives for EMS workers to make longer transfer trips, and a new rank within their structure – a Field Training Officer. 

 

“Everyone walked away from a long and arduous process [by approving this agreement],” said Okaloosa Deputy County Administrator Craig Coffey. He added that “reason prevailed,” when the two sides reached a tentative agreement.

How We Got Here

The Paramedics and EMTs of Okaloosa County decided to unionize in 2019 in a close vote. The union, The Internation Association of Government Employees/Service Employees Internation Union formed chapter 5000.  After the decision – members of the union did not see a collective bargaining agreement, or a raise for nearly two years while the union fought the county on their behalf. 

 

This latest round of negotiations is the second-ever union contract between the two entities. The first contract was set to expire in September of 2023.

Okaloosa County paramedics and EMTs voted by a razor-thin margin to organize into a collective bargaining unit in 2019.

Weak Unions, Why Labor is at a Disadvantage in Florida

Florida, like most southern states, is a Right to Work state. This means that workers are not required to join a union at their place of work if there is a union in place. Effectively, this undercuts the power of the union to collectively bargain, because they do not have the right to collect funds from people who might benefit from their efforts. This Free Rider issue means that non-union members can experience benefits of union membership without paying dues – therefore disincentivizing them from paying dues in the first place. Why pay for something if it’s going to be free, right?

Additionally, public employees who strike or take a work stoppage action against a government employer break the law. Each individual who strikes in defiance of the law is fined at least $50 per day by the courts – not to exceed $5,000.

Government employees are not allowed to strike in Florida. To do so would be to violate state law.

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