Lee County deputies vote 200-158 to not unionize
Lee County Sheriff’s Office deputies will not be represented by the Police Benevolent Association.
The PBA lost by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent, or 200 votes in opposition and 158 in favor of being represented when votes were counted Wednesday night at the agency’s main office on Six Mile Cypress Parkway in Fort Myers.
Three absentee ballots that arrived Monday in Tallahassee will not be counted because the vote was not close enough.
“What I’m most pleased with is the voter turnout,” Sheriff Mike Scott said shortly after the finally tally was revealed.
He had encouraged all deputies to vote so that a few did not speak for the majority.
Deputies eligible to vote were those who were in the law enforcement side prior to Sept. 30. Court and corrections deputies and those above the rank of corporal could not vote.
That left 398 eligible.
There were 368 votes cast, but four were thrown out because the deputies were ineligible to vote and a fifth person is classified as a supervisor.
Cecil Pendergrass, the PBA’s Gulf Coast chapter president, said PBA representatives thought it would be a close vote.
When the “no” votes were counted by Public Employees Relations Commission officials, he looked down and appeared defeated.
“We hope the sheriff’s office realizes there are some issues and will address those issues,” Pendergrass said shortly after the final tally was announced.
Whether the PBA tries again will be up to the employees, he said.
Scott is concerned, and has been from the beginning of the unionization talk, that the deputies are divided, which is evident from the split vote.
“We still have fragmentation,” he said.
He expects to send out an e-mail Thursday to encourage everyone and remind them they are “one sheriff’s office regardless of differing opinions.”
Scott believes the biggest concern of those who wanted union representation was the lack of pay raises the last couple of years.
“That’s a minority … of those people complaining,” he said.
Some people have mentioned disciplinary actions have changed, but they have not, Scott said. The policy has not changed in the five years he has been sheriff.
Valli Finney is a news correspondent for the Naples Daily News. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.