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.