Teaching Profession

Florida Bill Could End Most Teachers’ Union Collective Bargaining

By Emmanuel Felton — March 29, 2017 2 min read
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The Florida House of Representatives is set to consider a bill that would almost certainly lead to decertification of teachers’ unions across the Sunshine State.

The bill is already drawing comparisons with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s Act 10, which has led to the demise of over 100 public sector labor unions in that state.

But while the Miami New Times reports that Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has made the bill a “priority” this session, it faces tough odds in Democrat-controlled Senate committees.

So far, two House committees have passed the bill, which would require public service unions, with the exception of those representing police, corrections officers, and firefighters, to get 50 percent of eligible workers to sign up as dues-paying members in order to be recertified as a collective bargaining unit. Currently just 10 percent of state workers belong to unions, reports the Tallahassee Democrat. Florida is a Right to Work state, which means that lawmakers have already established that employees can’t be compelled to join a union or pay dues as a condition of their employment.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Scott Plakon, a Republican, says that he knows of one public sector union that has just 3 percent of eligible workers as members.

“The question is should these 3 percent with a few leaders represent 100 percent in the bargaining unit,” the Republican asked, reports the Democrat. “The answer is clearly no. The people in that bargaining unit should be empowered on their own to reach out and try to do the best thing for their family.”

Plakon calls the 50 percent thresholds, “simple measurements of democracy.” That’s a higher bar than the Wisconsin law, which requires a majority of members to vote to recertify the union, because it requires employees who are under no obligation to pay dues to essentially donate a portion of their paychecks to unions. Rich Templin, the legislative and political director for the Florida AFL-CIO, says the bill holds unions to a higher standard than politicians.

“I would challenge each of you to go back to your own districts,” Templin testified to legislators, reports the Miami Herald. “Can you guarantee me right now that you have contributions from over 50 percent of the voters that you are here representing—which is what the labor organizations are being asked to do?”

Democratic lawmakers bristled at the exclusion of public safety unions, which are often much more aligned with Republican causes than, say, teachers’ unions.

“I think it’s very clear that this bill is about politics, not about policy,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat from Orlando, according to the Herald. “This bill is about union-busting, plain and simple.”

The Miami New Times reports the United Teachers of Dade, Miami’s teachers’ union, has around 14,000 members out of a pool of 30,000 eligible employees, which would mean, unless they could recruit more members, the union would not be recertified if the bill passes.

“This is part of a strategy they have to attack the unions: Divide and conquer,” Karla Hernandez Mats, the president of the union, told the New Times. “This is something the state has been wanting to do for a while. But with the current political climate, the stars have aligned, and they’re trying to make good on their intention of taking away public-sector workers’ benefits and health care.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.