Union reps say proposed changes to Orange County deputy contracts could pose hazard

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —

Orange County deputies said they believe proposed changes in their contracts could pose safety risks to the public.

Channel 9 reported on Wednesday how the deputies union declared an impasse in their contract talks with the sheriff's office.

One of the main sticking points is salary.

Union leaders said they are also concerned about changes to the test scores for moving up in the department. They said the changes could put unqualified supervisors on the streets.

They said that is a major concern, because they want people who really know what they're doing making decisions.

Sheriff's officials insist any supervisor would still be qualified because hiring isn't just based on test scores.

In Orange county deputies are pitted against their boss, Sheriff Jerry Demings.

"The money is there. It's just for whatever reason, he doesn't want to pay us," said Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 93 official David Burdick.

The union representing nearly 800 sworn deputies declared an impasse in contract negotiations that started in September.

FOP Lodge 93 representatives said starting pay at the sheriff's office ranks eighth in the county, compared with other law enforcement agencies. They said deputies start at $38,001 per year, just a dollar more than starting pay for an officer on the campus of the University of Florida.

Officials said the pay gap, compared with higher paying agencies, gets wider for deputies with more experience.

"You have current deputies, five years on the job, basically making the same as a starting deputy," said FOP attorney Ken Hamner.

"Do you think it's fair a five-year deputy is making the same as a starting deputy?" Channel 9's Jeff Deal asked Capt. Angelo Nieves of the Sheriff's Office.

"Well again, we have to look at the entire picture. We can't discuss all facets of the negotiation," said Nieves.

Nieves said pay is based on budget constraints and the job market.

He said the sheriff's negotiating team has offered more money, and believes the entire benefits package is competitive.

The union also claims the sheriff wants to lower minimum test scores for supervisor promotions from 85 percent to 75 percent.

They said deputies don't think that's a good idea because supervisors need to make important decisions that could affect lives.

"The consequences could be devastating," said Burdick.

Union officials said they think the sheriff wants that because it will be easier for him to pick and choose who he promotes, even if the person is less qualified.

The sheriff's office said that's not true, and that test scores are only one part of the promotion process.