MIAMI — A Florida appeals court upheld the dismissal of a case levied by the International Association of Firefighters Local S-20, Florida State Fire Service Association, charging Gov. Rick Scott with promoting unfair labor practices following his veto of a proposed raise for state firefighters.

In a 2-1 decision on June 6, a three-judge panel on the First District Court of Appeal upheld a 2015 ruling of the Public Employees Relations Commission dismissing the case.

In a majority opinion, Judge Timothy Osterhaus wrote that “the governor’s veto power is legally superior to the constitutional right of public employees to collectively bargain.”

The governor is considered the public employer when negotiating collective bargaining agreements with state employees. After failing to come to an agreement with state firefighters during negotiations concerning working conditions, hours, and the pursuit of a $1,500 raise for the 2015-16 fiscal year, the matter was put before the Joint Select Committee on Collective Bargaining.  

Afterward, the state legislature attempted to settle the dispute by passing the General Appropriations Act (GAA) with a proviso granting the firefighters a $2,000 annual raise. While Scott passed the GAA, he used a line-item veto on the proviso as part of a series of controversial budget cuts. Since the legislature did not override the governor’s veto, the firefighters’ wages remained unchanged when the GAA went into effect July 1, 2015.

The International Association of Firefighters Local S-20, Florida State Fire Service Association, charged that the governor’s veto of the proviso violated collective bargaining rights guaranteed to state employees in Article I, Section 6, of the Florida Constitution. However, the state cited Article III, Section 8, which gives the governor the power to selectively veto specific appropriations without vetoing a whole bill. 

The Public Employees Relations Commission sided with the state and dismissed the case in 2015. This ruling was upheld by a split decision by the First District Court of Appeals on June 6.

In dissent, Judge Brad Thomas wrote that the firefighters had accomplished “a herculean task” by getting enough support in both houses of the legislature to pass the proviso granting them a raise in the GAA. He further stated that the governor’s veto “in essence holds that public employees have no constitutional right to collective bargaining, as they must not only accomplish a herculean task, but instead achieve a near-impossible feat of persuading the Legislature to exercise its override authority, an extremely rare occurrence.”

Osterhaus, supported by Judge Harvey Jay, noted that Florida law requires “unaddressed impasses to be resolved ‘by otherwise maintaining the status quo.’” He found that since “nothing stopped the Legislature from exercising its constitutional authority to override [Scott’s] veto,” by default “the Legislature accepted the status quo.”

Scott's veto of the proposed $2,000 raise eliminated about $1.75 million from the annual budget.

International Association of Firefighters Local S-20, Florida State Fire Service Association, v. State of Florida. case number 1D16-0618

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