Manatee County Sheriff's deputies may join union

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BRADENTON, Fla. - Manatee County Sheriff's deputies may soon become the 36th sheriff's office in Florida to unionize. Officials with Florida’s Police Benevolent Association say they've collected signatures from more than half of the deputies, all petitioning for representation.

It's been four years since Manatee County Sheriff's deputies have received a raise, and officials say the move to unionize is motivated by money, and despite Manatee County commissioner's budgeting the sheriff's office an additional $3.2 million this year for raises, PBA officials say deputies want a stronger voice.

“I'm not sure what those positive's and negative's are because we've never had a union here at the sheriff's office,” says Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube. He says while he doesn't know what may come from deputies desire to join the PBA, he does know if they're seeking a voice, he's been their strongest advocate and ally. “I am the voice for the people and i believe the people and i have the same goal in mind here. It's to get more money for the folks, and the statistics as you have seen bear out that we are the lowest paid in this area.”

Given that Manatee County deputies haven't had a pay raise in four years, and the cost of benefits has continued to rise, Sheriff Steube says even though commissioner's came around this year, providing an additional $3.2 million, it's just not enough, and he's not sure joining the PBA will get deputies paid.

“We're like a toolbox for them. We provide them with labor attorney's, contract negotiators who can also be labor attorneys, we have a research division within the PBA, and we have pooled resources, we have 24,000 members across the state from Pensacola to key west and we all pull our resources together to take care of each other,” says Matt Puckett, Executive Director, Florida Police Benevolent Association.

Puckett says he's personally met with many of Manatee County's deputies, discussing becoming part of the union, and it comes down to deputies desire to have a stronger voice, and more resources to ensure their futures are secure. “Are there other issues? Yes, there are some internal issues that were brought forth. There's some inequality, especially when it comes to promotions that some of the deputies expressed concern about, but overall they love the agencies, they get along very well with the Sheriff, this isn't a negative thing for them.”

Having already collected enough signatures, the next step is a formal vote. On Thursday, both the sheriff's office and the PBA agreed that if passed, the union will represent deputies within the rank of supervisor and below, excluding corrections. The formal vote will likely take place at the Manatee County Sheriff's office within the next 30 to 45 days.