By ALICIA LEONARD
The vice president of the Northwest Florida Chapter of the Police Benevolent Association (NWFPBA), Alan Miller, spoke with the Defuniak Herald this week about the controversy surrounding the possible unionization of the Walton County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) during the last weeks of outgoing Sheriff Ralph Johnson’s term.
Miller spoke on where the union process was and how the new sheriff might be involved with the process. “There are two separate issues. Joining is as simple as filling out and sending in a application. To start collective bargaining process, members of the department in question request us to come and get blue cards signed. A blue card is a form that is required by Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) to establish that there is enough interest to warrant an election. By signing a card, they are saying that they would like to bring it to a vote to have collective bargaining or not.”
Miller continued, “We have had more than enough respond that they are interested in the union. The cards they signed that signaled their interest are now in the hands of PERC. They decide how the different levels are set up between supervisors, employees, rank and file, as such, as well as oversee the election on whether or not to unionize.”
Miller said that a deputy may want to be a part of the union for “job security and legal protection. We have been able as a group to assist many officers with disciplinary problems, officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths. Many times, the officers involved in these situations is forgotten about. We provide him or her with an attorney, staff rep and many times members of our NWFPBA board respond to assure that all officers involved are okay and that their Police Officer Bill of Rights are not violated. By saying ‘job protection,’ when writing a contract, you are able to include checks and balances that level the playing filed for both the employee and the sheriff.”
Many have feared that the involvement of the union would hamper a newly-elected sheriff, but Miller said that this was not the purpose of the union. “We would welcome the involvement of the newly-elected sheriff. We don’t know how long it will take to get everything lined up for the vote, so, we hope that the new sheriff can be a part of the process.”
Miller laid to rest the question of who approached the NWFPBA about possibly moving to union status. Miller said that deputies from the WCSO first approached the union. He said the rumors that Sheriff Ralph Johnson approached him are “not true,” but that Johnson seems “agreeable” to the idea.
Democratic candidate Danny Griffith has been endorsed by the NWFPBA. Miller said the choice to endorse was due to the fact that, “Danny has had a great career has a trooper and has been a member of the PBA for many years. He contacted us and we were proud to help him with a endorsement.”
Miller said the cost of being a member of the union will be $34 per month and he plans on meeting with the WCSO deputies in a few weeks. “We are not coming in and asking for outrageous salaries or anything like that,” Miller continued. “We are community-based and our members are a part of the community. We just want to be able to provide them with a little security.”