Showdown between Sheriff, deputies this afternoon

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Postponed since August 18, today is the day that County Commissioners will intervene in a labor dispute over a shift change proposed by Deryl Loar for his deputies.

With both sides having dug in their heels over the issue, commissioners are the court of last resort for the deputies, who are opposing the measure to switch from 12-hour shifts to 10-hour shifts. Under the union agreement, Commissioners have the right to weigh in and decide in certain matters which cause an impasse between deputies and the Sheriff.

The item was taken off the August 18 commission agenda on a legal technicality that both sides had not signed the proper paperwork to designate the board of five elected officials to arbitrate the matter. Since August 18, commissioners have been in an “insular” period, during which neither party was allowed to meet with or correspond with them about the shift change. Chairman Wesley Davis, expecting this meeting to be heated and to possibly attract a large number of deputies and supporters wishing to speak, proposed handling the mediation during a special call meeting and today was the day that all the parties agreed would work.

Despite an in-house survey of deputies resulting in an 80 percent vote against changing the shifts, Loar went ahead with plans to make the change. But since the deputies are union employees and under a collective bargaining agreement, Loar needs the approval of the County Commissioners to seal the deal. His main reason behind the change is to allocate deputies at the times when the most calls for service come in.

“My whole mission is to be more efficient, I was elected by the voters to run an efficient, effective operation,” Loar said before the August 18 meeting where the decision was postponed. “If you ran a restaurant, you would want your staff to be there when you serve the most customers.”


Deputies have been working 12-hour shifts for more than 12 years since former Sheriff Gary Wheeler, now a County Commissioner, insistuted the current shift plan as a cost-saving measure.

Another reason for the change being given by the Sheriff’s Office include fatigue of officers on a 12-hour shift plus a 15-minute pre-shift briefing and commute time, since deputies drive Sheriff’s Office vehicles home. The proposed schedule wold also provide for time each week for training and court appearances without incurring overtime. Loar said the judges have indicated they are on board with moving traffic infractions from Thursday to Wednesday.

Half the deputies working Sunday through Wednesday and the other half working Wedensday through Saturday, providing overlap on Wednesdays for training and court. Under the proposal, deputies would rotate their four-day schedule after 90 days.

Representatives of the Coastal Police Benevolent Association, which represents the deputies, have stated that they are vehemently opposed to the change.

Deputy Scott Carmine, a Sebastian resident and local representative for the union, said members voted unanimously to reject Loar’s proposal, even though there was a clause that deputies could receive bonuses for adopting the new shifts.

“They didn’t care about the money,” Carmine said. “They were willing to sacrifice anything to keep their 12-hour shifts.”

Carmine said the fatigue argument raised by the Sheriff is unfounded and claims there have been no fatigue-related accidents due to deputies working 12-hour shifts. He said the Vero, Sebastian and Fellsmere police departments followed the Sheriff’s Office model in swithcing to the 12-hour shifts.

The major contention of the deputies is that changing from three 12-hour shifts to four 10-hour shifts would create a hardship for deputies who have arranged their lives, child care and spouses’ employment schedules around the current shift plan. Deputies currently have every other weekend off, but under the new schedule, they would either work Saturday or Sunday every week. A good portion of the deputies have young families and need to work second jobs or help care for children on days off so spouses can work.

“The primary issue to us and to our members , his employees, is the total disruption of their family lives,” said Al Boettjer, staff representative for the PBA, a 40-year veteran of law enforcement. “It would also affect their ability to take on off-duty details or a second job, if they have the approval of the department to do that. They haven’t had raises in a long time.”

Loar said he would give deputies 8 to ten weeks before the new shifts took effect to make any necessary arrangements regarding family responsibilities. In August , the Sheriff said he was hopeful about working something out with his employees. With the arbitration still on tap for today, that coming together obviously did not happen as Loar had hoped.

“The men and women of the Sheriff’s Office work too hard to be distracted by these issues,” he said.

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