In honor of the origin of the holiday, The Sun Bay Paper has spoken with one of the newer unions to form here in Lee County.
The Lee County Deputies Association Local 6071, a union representing members of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office of the rank Corporal or lower, was born four years ago to be a means through which its approximately 380 members could have a voice in the negotiation of their contracts. In August of 2011, the deputies and corporals of the Sheriff’s Office formed the union in a 194-124 vote. This followed in the footsteps of Lee County’s Sergeants unionizing, an organization that later voted to dissolve itself in July of 2012. The deputies tried to organize before this in 2009, but the first attempt fell short in a 200-158 vote against unionization.
“Our main purpose is to negotiate with the Sheriff to get as good a working condition that is possible,” Association President Kevin Calderone said. He has been president of the board for the past two years, and has been a deputy with the Sheriff’s Office since 1997. Calderone also says that the Association gets involved in reaching out to and supporting families of fallen officers throughout Florida, as well as getting members to take a more active part in the neighborhoods in which they live and work. “We encourage the deputies to get involved with the community, particularly in Walks for Autism, and events around the holidays.”
“In the past, we had nobody at the table to assert what we’re looking for,” The Association’s Vice President George Schwing said. “Having a union gives us a seat at the table to negotiate policy changes and different issues considered by the state to be mandatory subjects of bargaining.” Schwing stated that the biggest two issues included in those negotiated subjects were wages and discipline.
The primary drive to creating a union that would solidify these benefits came from a desire to create a more predictable environment for the deputies to work in, further removed from the political winds that could affect the top of the Sheriff’s Office.
“Sheriffs come and sheriffs go, but for the most part employees stay,” Schwing, a 17 year employee with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, said. “This is my third Sheriff that I’ve worked under, and with each different administration, they have different goals and objectives. Their policies change from sheriff to sheriff.”
However, in its four years of existence, the union hasn’t seen a drastic change in the fortunes of its members. It is still locked in negotiations with Sheriff Mike Scott for its first contract. However, under the current conditions, drastic change isn’t necessarily their goal. Many of the policies provided by Scott’s administration was described by Schwing as “very good.”
“Basically, we’ve been trying to lock in the policies that the Sheriff’s office has in place,” Schwing said.
Consistency seems to be the endgame of this recent movement, in order to provide stability for a job that can, at times, be very chaotic.
“We want to make sure people have predictable working environment in an unpredictable arena,” Calderone said.
“When you have to strap on a bulletproof vest and gun to go to work every day, you should have the peace of mind that if you’re so fortunate to make it through to the end, you have these benefits there ten to twenty years down the line,” Schwing said.
“I can only hope that whoever takes on this job after us, they continue to fight for the best working environment that they can obtain,” Schwing said. “There’s no guarantees, whoever is sheriff at the time has to work with us, and we have to work with them. Hopefully we all have the same goals in mind working together.”