They weren’t in the room, but leaders of Key Biscayne’s unions were sounding wary after a protracted Village Council debate this week about inflation and pay increases for workers performing critical municipal services.
The topic under discussion? A proposed 9% increase to the $850,000 contract for garbage and recycling, much of which is passed on to the dozen or so sanitation workers who serve Key Biscayne. Although the sanitation workers are not direct employees of the Village, the inflation and wage issues were the focal point of the discussion.
And Key Biscayne’s public safety unions noticed.
Village Manager Steve Williamson recommended reopening the trash hauling agreement, due to expire in December, and replacing it with a new pact that would cap rates in future years. The proposed deal would allow – for the first time — condominiums to benefit from a group pricing and franchise system.
But the Council, at the urging of Members Brett Moss and Ed London, asked for a deferral after haggling with representatives of Great Waste and Recycling Service, LLC.
“To me, a contract’s a contract. You agreed to provide service, we agreed to pay you,” said London, who questioned why the Village would want to re-open the deal.
The tough talk about the contract and the discussion about inflation made some union leaders worry about the tone of upcoming labor talks. The agreements, which cover about 130 village employees, expire this fall.
The trash haulers were seeking a make-up for inflation — and Key Biscayne’s unions will be doing the same, sometimes called “retro” pay.
Although the pace of inflation has cooled significantly as of late, prices remain high. The Consumer Price Index for Miami is up 17% since the Village’s labor contracts were ratified in February 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It’s scary,” said one prominent union member. “I sometimes wonder what they’re thinking.”
The union member declined to give a name because they were not authorized to speak for the union.
Williamson felt he’d hammered out a good deal on the solid waste renewal after four months of negotiations, and the pushback appeared to surprise him.
“Do we really want to ask the question that those guys did not deserve a pay raise?,” Williamson said. “They do our dirty work.”
The agreement would raise residential rates $65 a year. It would tie future increases to inflation, capped at 4%. Most importantly, in the view of the administration, it would retain a provider that “has provided quality services far above the industry standard.” There were 138 complaints against 138,000 service visits, a 99.9% service success rate, Williamson wrote in a memo.
In the end, the Council deferred action and Williamson said he’d come back with a revised proposal. Great Waste CEO Carlo Piccinonna said he’d agree to reduce a fuel charge component of the contract if diesel prices decline in the future.
Still, it’s far from clear if Williamson has the votes.
“I don’t know if we’re getting anything in exchange,” said Mayor Joe Rasco, who said he was keeping an open mind.
Frank Caplan, the vice mayor, said reopening the deal was simply a reaction to inflation, which made sense to him. “It’s equitable, and fair, and prudent, and anticipatory of a better, fuller, lasting relationship, that actually works very well.”
The temporary rejection of Williamson’s deal raises questions about how the vastly larger municipal labor contracts will be handled. Labor costs drive 60% of the island’s $37 million dollar budget, which passed by a single vote last year.
The current three-year agreements specified a wage freeze the first year, and 4% increases in 2021 and 2022 — but they came after years of bitter bargaining. Talks concluded only after then- Manager Andrea Agha resigned and Charles Press stepped in as the Village’s interim manager. Press, the former police chief, quickly wrapped up a deal, changing the format of the closed-door sessions held with the Council.
Williamson has laid out a budget schedule that sets the first workshop for June 27, and it’s expected that labor talks will start in the near future.
Will it be smooth sailing?
“There is always drama in Key Biscayne,” said one police union official.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.