MARCH 03, 2011
While the Wisconsin uprising hogs up most of the news relating to unions these days, public transit employees in Florida’s biggest county are conducting political campaign work for their union-backed mayor on taxpayer time.Facing a recall vote, the scandal-plagued mayor of Miami-Dade County (Carlos Alvarez) created a special “education” committee that allows public transit employees to be excused from their regular duties while still collecting their taxpayer salaries, ranging from $35,000 to $70,000 a year. The workers parade around encouraging residents to vote against recalling Alvarez in a special election later this month, according to various local media reports.They wear bright yellow T-shirts that say “Vote No” to recall the mayor and distribute brochures supporting him. A local television station actually recorded footage of a public bus driver performing his unscrupulous political campaigning during work hours. While the union-backed transit workers perform their political duties on the clock the cash-strapped county, suffering through a $250 million budget shortfall, must hire additional staff to take their place.The mayor’s innovative, publicly-financed education committee is overseen by the 130,000-member Transportation Workers Union (TWU), which has stood firmly behind him during the many transgressions that ultimately led to this month’s recall election. In fact, the TWU is one of Alvarez’s biggest financial backers and has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a political action committee created to fend off the recall effort.The embattled mayor’s job is on the line amid outrage over his repeated abuse of power, secret deals with public funds and waste of scarce tax dollars. A career cop, Alvarez increased taxes to give union-backed county workers hefty pay raises and blamed the move on the power of collective bargaining.He also gave fat raises to members of his immediate staff who already made lucrative six-figure salaries. At least two of them got double-digit pay bumps, including Alvarez’s longtime confidant and chief of staff whose annual salary leaped from $185,484 to $206,783 even though he works as a private consultant in Panamaon taxpayer time.Voters in the south Florida county with a population of about 2.5 million are also upset about the mayor’s private deal to build a baseball stadium with tax dollars and the fact that thousands of county employees make six-figure salaries. That figure doesn’t even include about 1,300 union police officers who make over $100,000 annually at the department Alvarez worked in and headed for years. Alvarez himself makes $233,123 a year.
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