Owed millions in back pay, Miami first responders attack mayor's campaign

During his first year as mayor, Tomás Regalado filled a $100 million budget hole by pushing officials to slash pay and benefits for thousands of employees

By David Smiley
Miami Herald

MIAMI — A controversial solution employed by Miami’s mayor to solve a financial crisis that greeted him as he took office eight years ago may turn around to bite him on the way out the door.

During his first year as mayor, Tomás Regalado filled a roughly $100 million hole in the city’s budget by pushing city commissioners to unilaterally slash pay and benefits for thousands of employees. Using a state statute known as “financial urgency,” the city opened collective bargaining agreements to make the cuts despite union opposition, spawning a wave of retirements and lawsuits seeking to overturn the cuts.

Lawsuits that the employees are suddenly winning.

Now, with just weeks left in Regalado’s tenure and with his children running for political office, Miami’s unions are waiting to learn just how much back pay and benefits they’re owed after a state commission ruled in favor of the Fraternal Order of Police last week. In the meantime, they’re lashing out at the mayor and his final, legacy-setting initiative: the Miami Forever general obligation bond.

“Regalado has the audacity to make commercials pushing for a $400 million bond for things like future flood prevention while city taxpayers are currently on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars of first responders’ benefits,” Edward Lugo, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said during a press conference Monday.

Florida’s Public Employee Relations Commission has yet to decide a back-pay figure. But citing projections by a union-hired economist, Lugo estimates the city owes its public safety unions more than $200 million in wages and benefits after the courts determined their contract should be restored to the agreement in place in 2010 on the day before the city’s cuts.

In March, S&P Global Ratings noted that Miami can finance a large lump-sum judgment in a worst-case scenario. But Freddy Delgado, Miami’s firefighter union chief, said such a decision would compound were voters to pass Regalado’s Miami Forever bond — a direct attack on the mayor’s promise that his bond proposal won’t result in higher tax bills.

“They’re going to have to pay us this money,” Delgado said. “They sell these bonds and then they can’t put bonds out there again without raising taxes.”

Regalado, during his own press conference, called the $200 million number a “figure of [the unions’] imagination.” The city’s administration released a statement that said “the actions taken in 2010 were necessary to prevent a financial meltdown of the City of Miami. We don’t agree with the Fraternal Order of Police’s statement and we will continue to explore all legal options.”

Regalado said the city believes at best the unions are owed one year of back wages since new contracts were approved in 2011. He said claims that the bond will raise taxes are ignorant given that the language on the ballot guarantees that the initiative can’t push the portion of the rate dedicated to debt beyond what exists today.

“The $200 million is just in the mind of police union leaders. There’s no court of law, no state agency that has ever mentioned a number,” he said.

The unions say they’re going at Regalado because the city’s administration refuses to talk settlement. But they’re also blasting away just two weeks from election day. And with Tomas N. “Tommy” Regalado running for Miami’s District 3 commission seat, the city’s police and firefighters are supporting his toughest opponent, former mayor Joe Carollo.

By nailing one Tomás Regalado, they’re possibly hurting another.

The mayor, though, shrugged off any political consequences Monday. He said Miami’s employees are better off today than they were seven years ago.

“Actually,” he said, “they might owe us money.”

Copyright 2017 Miami Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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