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Up to 35 workers from 56 Miami-Dade County departments such as Water and Sewer and Human Services could soon find themselves as clerks in the Florida court system, according to labor union representatives. “This is a nightmare,” said Leon Fuller, a traffic court records specialist and vice president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 199 in Miami. “I don’t believe we’ve ever had anyone bump into the clerk’s office before. In order to lay off 100 people, you may end up moving 200,” he said. The impending moves are part of a domino effect resulting from a complex system of seniority and bumping rights triggered by a recent round of layoffs ordered by Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin. His office, which employs 1,400 people, announced 145 job eliminations last month as a result of budget cutbacks passed by the Florida Legislature. So-called “bumping rights” are based on a combination of years of service, performance evaluations, attendance and time spent in the current classification. Although employee evaluations carry slightly more weight, years of service remain a strong indicator of overall clout because an employee’s total evaluation score is an aggregate of evaluations over time. The retention scores for county employees are calculated on the 21st floor of the Miami-Dade Government Center in a gray human resources office. The scores determine which employees keep their jobs, and who goes. The numerical pecking order also drives who will remain in their posts and who must move across town. When an employee with a lower score leaves and the position is filled again, the next ranking employee moves into the position. That position in turn goes to the next senior employee, and so forth down the line. Each employee gets a letter that includes a numerical retention score and three-weeks’ notice that they’re heading elsewhere. Local 199, which negotiates with the county on behalf of 10,000 county workers, is closely monitoring the process as hundreds of employees are repositioned and retrained. At the individual level, Demetrius Hadley was a rising star in the court system for about 15 years. He worked his way up to head the docketing division, a highly technical post that requires a combination of precision and analytical skills. He got bumped to the traffic division last week as a result of the layoffs. To supervise docketing, a clerk needs to know the intricate rules of the courts and divine the importance of court orders that can be complex, vague or difficult to understand. “I think the loss of Demetrius is going to have a negative impact in civil operations,” said a longtime clerk who requested anonymity. “He understands our recording operations big time, and we just don’t have a replacement for him.” The clerk said Hadley was replaced with a more senior clerk from another division and a supervisory rank who doesn’t have any experience with docketing, something the clerk worried could cause the office’s error rate to shoot up. As Hadley’s situation shows, the bumping system can derail efforts to cultivate expertise. Hadley declined to comment for this article. The effects of the layoffs and the bumping system on the face of the courts is immediately apparent. The intake counter for court filings at the Dade County Courthouse in downtown Miami is suddenly filled with fresh faces, and the lines are noticeably longer. Ruvin, who sent letters last Wednesday to laid-off employees thanking them for their service, said the situation especially hurts technological improvements he has been trying to implement. “We’re particularly vulnerable in the areas of technology and accounting,” he said. “There’s a leadership challenge here, but I have a lot of confidence in our people, and we are going to continue to seek excellence.” Potential problems don’t end with a slimmed-down staff to throw at a rising tide of court filings driven largely by spiking foreclosure cases. It’s one thing for a clerk to go from the traffic division, which is paperless, to the civil division, which isn’t. But with the clerk’s office now being more integrated with the overall county staff, employees from all over Miami-Dade are bumping their way into the court system. The positions of Supervisor 1 and Office Support Specialist, formerly known in the court system as a clerk typist, are generic classifications that can move among departments. A Clerk 2 also is a classification that can come from outside the courts. It includes filing and mailroom duties but also can include drivers. Ruvin said he is girding for the effects of 1,700 proposed layoffs announced by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez. While Ruvin noted his office probably would not have to lay off more workers, it “means there are more people out there who may have retention scores to bump in” to the clerk’s office.

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