Escambia County open for everything but union negotiations

Escambia County administration has continued to hold meetings with developers and contractors on their development plans since March. The fact that county operations have continued during the crisis has been a source of pride for leaders in the county administration – even bragged about at commission meetings.

However, when the time comes for county officials to set down and negotiate with union officials, COVID suddenly becomes a problem, and the county puts off bargaining sessions to the end of September.

ATU Local 1395 president Mike Lowery posted this communication from the county’s HR director:

Good evening all,
I apologize for the delay in getting this message out to everyone. I hope you and your families are staying well throughout this pandemic.

As you know, the County is coping with an unprecedented circumstance, and we remain dedicated to protecting the health and safety of our employees who continue to serve the citizens of Escambia County. Due to ongoing impacts of the COVID pandemic and unavoidable scheduling conflicts, the County is unable to schedule additional bargaining sessions until the end of September.

Many factors and alternatives were considered; however, at this time the decision is to temporarily suspend labor negotiations in accordance with the Board of County Commissioners Pandemic Influenza Emergency Plan.

Please advise as to your bargaining team’s availability for the last week in September or early October, and we will proceed with confirming a date to resume negotiations.

Thank you for your continued cooperation.

That sort of makes senses…until you dig deeper.

The Pandemic Influenza Emergency Plan was approved by the Board of County Commissioners in 2010 –  2010 BCC Pandemic Plan.

For it to go into effect, a Pandemic Influenza emergency must be proclaimed by the county. That hasn’t happened – see Emergency Order. The order opened the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) but made no mention of an Influenza Pandemic.

The governor’s executive order declared a public health emergency, but didn’t use the words  “pandemic” or  “influenza.”

Escambia is one of the few Florida counties with nearly 7,700 COVID cases that doesn’t require employees – union or non-union – to wear face coverings. Most of the Emergency Support Functions (ESF) at the EOC have been demobilized for weeks.

According to the plan’s overview, a pandemic for county government is characterized by a cumulative absentee rate of up to or more than 25-30% of county employees for up to 6 months, on a rolling basis.

The county’s snapshot dated 7/29/20 only showed only 1.47% of its employees are currently positive for COVID. Another 1.52% are awaiting test.  Nowhere near a pandemic level crisis for county government.

The persistent message from the county administration is the virus has had no impact on its operations, so why does it suddenly matter in union negotiations?

Is it a pandemic or county business as usual? The administration can’t have it both ways.


9 thoughts on “Escambia County open for everything but union negotiations

  1. ECW is probably using Escambia public safety as a political football to attempt to flip the BOCC to an Underhill “tiger” team.
    No thanks
    Vote incumbents. That will be decided in a few weeks.
    If they need to hire more EMTs, at least the word is out that falsifying certs will not tolerated going forward.
    I’m sure they have their hands full. I see Comm Bender is using discretionary for employee appreciation. Good, they need support and appreciation as most people do.
    I still think prevention and not needing the hospital or public service is a good strategy. Personal responsibility.
    I’m sure it can be demoralizing for a public servant or anyone to have their name in the media being criticized but I guess that can comes with the territory at times.

  2. Sorry Rick, I usually don’t worry about my typos but that was supposed to say above that there were higher-ups in EMS who were positive and symptomatic. Not asymptomatic.

  3. Hi Joan, sorry, just saw that.

    First, as many EMS have tried to explain to Jacqueline, holding calls is not an unusual phenomenon and there is an expectation of a certain amount of it built into the system.

    So it boils down to a matter of degree of frequency and how long the calls are held as to when it really presents a problem.

    And yes, there is a huge problem right now. How could there not be? Jacqueline seems to think that this is just a matter of throwing money at the problem. While I do believe that the starting wage for our EMS and paramedics should be even higher than the raise they recently negotiated, that’s not the primary issue right now.

    The primary issue is covid. There are a lot of people in Public Safety and in EMS down or quarantining with it. There are higher-ups who tested positive and were asymptomatic. Not all the numbers went onto Janice’s daily count, of course. At one point dispatch was operating remote as a result of the need to quarantine, and because all of this had to be done on the fly, reactively, rather than the proactive planning that should have been taking place back in February, it resulted in strain and inevitable logistical confusion with some of the triangulated flow of communication.

    The second primary issue is that the toxic workplace environment in the department was never resolved. If it had been properly approached and dealt with last spring, our EMS department would have been in such a better, stronger place to deal with this pandemic nightmare. Instead, they teetered in on the bandaid optics of “It’s all Good Now” when that is the farthest thing from the truth. We still can’t get enough medics to come work for the County, and the bleed has continued to Santa Rosa Life Guard and other agencies, so we already had an established and increasing work shortage of medics before covid hit. The solution seems to continue to be advancing EMT’s. Which is the natural course of things, but back when I was advocating and far more knowledgeable about what was going on in the here-and-now, it was abundantly clear that EMT’s were getting advanced too quickly and they were being allowed to remain on the road even after they had made multiple serious mistakes.

    It’s difficult to talk about that without looking like you are trying to incite a panic in the public, which is not my intention. But the public does have a right to know that our EMS is seriously strained (as is our entire healthcare system, including hospitals, despite the puff messaging the administrators are unbelievably clinging to).

    Perhaps a reality check about what’s really going on would result in more adequate emergency planning to bolster their forces and bring in medics on an emergency basis if need be. The problem is all of the directors are hamstrung by Gilley’s covid denial, including our new Public Safety director, who by all accounts is very solid, highly experienced, and would know what to do if Janice would just get the hell out of the way.

    I don’t have any hard and fast on what exactly the call holds have been and the severity of the issue. The reason for this is that the last thing our EMS needs is people hounding them over the inadequacies right now. Even if the department had gone in to this operating at a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 (and old timers more knowledgeable than me gauged it at about a 4), they would be stressed to the max with the explosion of covid cases. I do know for a fact that before the BS release on how they had come up with a “new” agreement with SR LG (same mutual aid agreement that has been in place for a long time–amounts to text messages going out saying “anybody want to work in Escambia tomorrow?”), on one day our available medic number was low enough they could only put 6 trucks out.

    This is a failure in leadership. But as some medics and EMTs have tried to impress upon Jacqueline, her constant rants on hold times demoralizes them to know end. I can’t tell you how many people in the department have tuned her page out for that very reason. I’ve completely backed off contacting anyone in EMS to see what’s really going on. I know it’s bad; I know it will get worse, if something more isn’t done. If somebody responsible would present a plan to the BOCC for extra funding for outside assistance if needed, it’s a ridiculous notion they wouldn’t vote that in. But they don’t get any more real information out of Janice than the public does–that much is blindingly obvious from just watching the meetings. So, tragically, our EMS is stuck in the middle of that political tragedy. As are the citizens they serve.

  4. Melissa

    Can/Will you expound on the “holding calls at EMS ” status at the county? Do you have any info on that? I think it is being politicized but I wondered if employees were simply out ill or in quarantine. That should be addressed at the next county meeting, imo. or sooner..

    I know it’s can be a deep story– but just basically–Why are they holding calls and what can be done about it at this time?

  5. I agree, Joan. Airborne and long haulers both need far much more attention.

    When the presser was held at the Public Safety building, I texted a bunch of people there and said “why are earth is Laura Coale bunching everybody together behind the podium? Why aren’t they social distancing the press? This stuff is airborne!”

    That was the first week of April.

    The reason people haven’t understood that from the earliest studies demonstrating the fact is the same reason people don’t understand the simple truths to this day: a calculated disinformation campaign orchestrated by Trump’s administration and skyrocketing down through all levels of government.

    At the presser that day, Dr. Lanza responded to a question about why they weren’t social distancing and wearing masks, and he answered that everybody was safer outside when it was windy.

    And there you have it.

    My friend joked that they must have figured the press was downwind.

    A tragedy of epic proportion unfolding daily before our very eyes, and the County Administrator is still practicing covid denial for politics.

    Today’s death count in Florida?

    “In numerical terms, the one-day loss of life in Florida was roughly equivalent to the number of passengers on a single-aisle airplane.”

    And over on Jacqueline Rogers’s site, a nurse from a local hospital came on and tried to explain to people how awful it is in our hospitals. The whack jobs thanked her for her efforts by coming with blood in their teeth and ripping her to shreds.

    Only on E-scam-bia Citizens Watch.

  6. This article dove home to me a visual about the “Air that we Breathe” and helps me to visualize the virus just being in the breath of another. Perhaps if we put that in our minds it will help to stop the partisan debates and blame games. Stay out of people’s shadow and don’t breathe their breath. I empathize with leaders in this position, to a point, but we need to get it together. Read this if you will. Not sure about the admins choices but we do have economic concerns as well as health concerns and yes it’s a pandemic.

  7. Nice try. The numbers show a pandemic everywhere but in the heads of county administration

  8. Relax Kim. Or is it Karen? You’re hatred for Underhill is starting to show. He’s just here to make you think. Rick has the stats right there in the article. THIS IS NOT A PANDEMIC. The death rate in good ol USA isn’t even close to pandemia. Please open your eyes, no this isn’t Birdbox, and understand what is happening. If you want to protect yourself with a mask, that over half or better are wearing improperly due to facial hair or wearing it on their waddle, feel free. Educate yourself further than Facebook or any news program.
    Thanks Rick for putting this out there. It’s a head scratcher for sure the way this has been handled.

  9. Janice Gilley, with the help of Douglas Underhill, have literally turned the County into an absolute joke. It’s very clear she has no clue as to how to lead, & Underhill leads through conspiracy theories & unethical tactics. Their incompetence, partisan politics, lies, & flat out denial of scientific facts, & advice from local doctors, is truly gross negligence. They’re killing us small business owners, not to mention harming countless lives! Serious accountability needs to take place.

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