Collective Bargaining and Deputy Sheriffs in Florida: An Unusual History

By Pynes, Joan E.; Corley, Brian | Public Personnel Management, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Collective Bargaining and Deputy Sheriffs in Florida: An Unusual History


Pynes, Joan E., Corley, Brian, Public Personnel Management


Position A: General duty work in the enforcement of laws and ordinances. An employee in this class is responsible for the protection of life and property, for the prevention, detection, and investigation of crime, and for maintaining law and order.

Position B: Highly visible certified law enforcement position responsible for patrolling an assigned area for the prevention of crime, protecting lives and property, apprehending and assisting in the prosecution of offenders, preserving the public peace, and enforcing various regulatory measures. (1)

Individuals employed in Position B are deputy sheriffs. Individuals employed in Position A are police officers. Despite the similarities in the positions, deputy sheriffs in the state of Florida were denied the right to join labor organizations for the purposes of collective bargaining until 2003, while police officers have been permitted to join unions and participate in collective bargaining since 1968. Until 2003, deputy sheriffs were not considered to be public employees for the purposes of collective bargaining.

Brief History

Public sector collective bargaining has been influenced by underlying beliefs and organizational structures not found in the private sector. The principle of government sovereignty and the doctrine of illegal separation of powers are two examples of such beliefs. The sovereignty doctrine holds that employees have only the rights that government permits them to have. The doctrine of illegal separation of powers forbids a government to share its powers with others. It has been used most frequently to limit the scope of mandatory topics of bargaining. Opponents of public sector collective bargaining have noted that there is a fundamental conflict between collective bargaining and these doctrines because government has a responsibility to act on behalf of all citizens--not just union members--and the public interest should not be subjugated to the political struggles between unions and government.

Changes in the Legal Framework

In 1959, the state of Wisconsin enacted the first state statute permitting municipal employees the right to form, join, and be represented by labor organizations. Three years later, Pres. John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10988, which granted federal employees the right to join and form unions and to bargain collectively. The order established a framework for collective bargaining and encouraged the expansion of collective bargaining rights to state and local government employees. Beginning in 1976, the federal courts have ruled that the First Amendment's freedom of association prohibits states from interfering with public sector employees' right to join and form unions. These decisions invalidated the sovereignty doctrine, contributing to the growth of unions. (2)

The Supreme Court held in Smith v. Arkansas State Highway Employees, Local 1315 (1979), (3) however, that nothing in the U.S. Constitution requires public employers to either recognize or collectively bargain with public employee unions. Employees can form and join unions without the benefit of protective legislation, but public employers are not compelled to recognize or bargain with unions. Public employers are required to bargain only under laws that mandate bargaining. The duty to bargain can be imposed only by statute.

However, collective bargaining does occur in states that do not provide statutory protection and procedures. For example, in Arizona local governments have passed protective ordinances to permit de facto bargaining. Indiana permits de facto bargaining, and in Louisiana and West Virginia, state courts have in effect permitted collective bargaining in limited applications. (4,5) In Florida, counties may make a local decision to decide whether or not to confer on deputy sheriffs the right to collectively bargain.

Florida's History

Until 1968 when the Florida State Constitution was amended, there were no constitutional or statutory laws in place that granted public employees in the state of Florida the right to collectively bargain with their public employers. …

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