By ALICIA LEONARD
The upcoming Walton County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) elections seems to have provided a push among some employees to move toward becoming union members in the Police Benevolent Association (PBA).
Walton County Sheriff Ralph Johnson said he feels that the push for unionization is coming from employees fears over changes by a new administration. Johnson lost his bid as incumbent for the Republication ticket to Defuniak Springs Police Department City Marshal Mike Adkinson. “They’re frightened of the rumors they hear if Adkinson becomes sheriff,” said Johnson. “They think he’s going to cut 20 percent of the officers and cut the beach patrol, among other things they are hearing. Some came to me after the primary and asked me what I thought of it. I told them that was up to them and I couldn’t offer any advice one way or the other. We (administration) can’t be involved in this. That’s against the law. As an employer, we can’t get involved in it, nor will we. This is up to the deputies,” said Johnson.
City Marshall Adkinson said, “The rumors that I am going to lay people off or cut the beach patrol is insane. I just heard about the beach patrol rumor last night. My biggest concern is why this is being tried to be forced through two weeks before an election. This is Johnson’s attempt to circumvent the results of the election. If he attempts to align himself personally with a contract in a collective bargaining process, we will have to challenge it, if I am elected.”
Union contracts and collective bargaining agreements are two different things and therein lies the rub. Adkinson noted the difference between being a member of the PBA and the collective bargaining process.
“There is confusion that needs to be cleared about the difference between these two issues. A collective bargaining agreement would effectively tie a new sheriff’s hands, even in the event he wanted to give raises or compensation, after they go to contact,” Adkinson stated.
“I am not anti PBA, I do have an issue with the way this all came about. It is unusual for upper-level management to initiate a collective bargaining agreement, which they are typically not coved by. Collective bargaining for a sheriff’s office does not work the same way it does for, say, a fire department. There are differences in the way it is conducted. If employees asked for something and the sheriff says no, you then go to mediation, if that doesn’t work, you go to arbitration, if that doesn’t work, then you go to a quasi-judicial hearing by a legislative body. You know who that is? It’s the sheriff.”
If the proposed collective bargaining agreement goes through, it could effectively restrict a new sheriff’s actions and decisions for up to three years. This would include the ability to move personnel or may salary adjustments. It would hamper the incoming sheriff’s plan for management inside the office.
Adkinson said that, if elected, “He (Johnson) is not going to dictate our upper level management positions. His impact could be felt for years to come and could hinder the incoming sheriff and his ability to lead in the best manner possible. I really think it is ludicrous for the sheriff to be concerned about his deputies’ welfare after the way he has treated them the last eight years.”
Democratic Sheriff candidate Danny Griffith said it’s not an issue to him. “I have no problem with it. The union provides legal representation and some job security for these deputies and their families.”
WCSO Capt. Eddie Farris said he did not have much information on what was occurring between employees and the PBA, but he understood that the organization is scheduled to be at the WCSO on Friday, Oct. 24, to answer employees questions. Farris said, “It’s my understanding, right now, that employees just want answers about the pros and cons of joining the PBA.”