Ouch! Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina -- now running for the county mayor's post -- might have felt a little burn Friday when the city was ordered to rehire 16 veteran firefighters he summarily dismissed right before a union vote expected to reject $4.4 million in concessions. And right before Christmas.
I bet there's smoke coming out of his ears.
"Since you are receiving a pension of 75% of your final average compensation, I recognize that you are in such better position to sustain your livelihood than an employee who would be terminated without any pension income,” Robaina wrote to them in the December termination letters quoted in the ruling. (At least he has a taste for sarcasm.).
The senior firefighters (read: big salaries) were all in the DROP plan, which means they postponed retirement for up to five years, and some within the union suggest they were targeted to sway the vote. They filed grievances on the grounds that economic reasons are not cause for termination and the firings were actually layoffs in disguise without cause or notice as required.
Fort Myers arbitrator Robert Hoffman agreed. “The city failed to have just cause, cause and good cause,” which is a nice way of saying they had absolutely no cause at all, Hoffman said, adding that the firefighters “shall be immediately reinstated to their former positions and made whole.” That means paid retroactively to December. Add to that whatever it cost the city to defend this action.
All this to be a bully?
There is a right way to negotiate and a gangster’s way to do it. Ladra is not necessarily happy about the paid five-month vacations for these dedicated and hardworking first responders, no matter how wonderful they are. Even though it does provide the voting public with a nice warning at the right time. But since they all contend that they were “willing to make some concessions in the first place, including retirement” for some DROP staff, and it was “Robaina who acted in bad faith ,” they can compromise now and come out of it true Hialeah heroes. And make him look like the heavy again. Which is really easy, actually.
In the ruling, even the arbitrator – who probably knows nothing about Robaina’s alleged freelance loan sharking, gaming industry appeal, zest for no-bid vendors at the city and real estate development ties – made some observations worth pointing out to voters.
1) The action was taken without a formal cost analysis, which is “especially significant here, given that this is not the usual cost-cutting measure, whereby the most expensive employees are cut back, laid off or terminated to save the total cost of their salaries and benefits.”
2) The city would have to hire replacements for the high-ranking officers – which include three district chiefs, three captains and eight lieutenants – and they could not be entry level, so savings were not immediately evidently significant, Hoffman said (read: It was payback from the mayor).
3) The city failed to terminate other employees, including senior non-drop fire officials that would have meant a greater savings to the city because it would be a 24 percent decrease in pension costs.
4) There are “questions about the legitimacy of the reasons to terminate” the firefighters because of the timing right before the union vote.
He stopped short of saying that Robaina fired the firefighters so they would not be able to vote against the contract ratification. But that’s what Ladra is growling about. Is this the kind of leadership we want at the county?
I hope the "dropped 16" as they have been called in the firehouse start back at work Monday.