By Rich Pollack
Highland Beach town commissioners have agreed to hire an outside law firm to represent the town in negotiations and other matters should a fledgling effort by non-police employees to form a union come to fruition.
At a meeting last month, commissioners agreed to have Mayor Bernard Featherman sign an agreement with the law firm of Ward, Damon, Posner, Pheterson & Bleau PL, authorizing it and managing member Jeffrey Pheterson to represent the town in labor relations relating to efforts by civilian employees to unionize.
Under the agreement, the town would pay Pheterson and senior attorneys in the labor and employment law practice group $265 an hour for services. It would pay $200 an hour for associates and $125 an hour for paralegals and other legal services that arise. The town would reimburse the firm for certain out-of-pocket expenses.
Town Attorney Glen Torcivia, who continues to represent the town in negotiations with its police union, recommended Pheterson to town commissioners.
Pheterson “is an excellent attorney,” Torcivia said. “He’s been doing this for more than 30 years.”
In recommending Pheterson, Torcivia cited his credentials, including his experience as a former administrative hearing officer and trial attorney for the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission.
“My job as the town attorney is to get the best attorney for the case,” Torcivia said. “I think [Pheterson] is the best choice.”
In August, town officials received a notice from Florida State Fraternal Order of Police representative Joe Puleo, notifying them that 14 of 16 eligible civilian employees had submitted cards indicating they were in favor of exploring whether to join a union.
The action, Puleo said, was in reaction to commission-directed changes in health insurance plans and other benefits.
Commissioners said the employees’ actions surprised them and that they would receive additional benefits, including longevity pay bonuses and $1,000 per year medical gap insurance.
The process of forming a union is continuing, although no date has been set for an election in which employees can decide whether to unionize. Ú
By Rich Pollack