Union restrictions headed to DeSantis
Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona
By Jim Saunders
News Service of Florida
April 26, 2023
TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House on Wednesday gave final approval to a controversial plan that would place additional restrictions on public-employee unions, teeing up the issue for Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Union members repeatedly came to the Capitol to fight the bill (SB 256), but it moved quickly through the Senate before passing the Republican-controlled House in a 72-44 vote. Nine House Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the bill.
Among other things, the bill would prevent dues from being deducted from workers’ paychecks, forcing union members to make separate payments. Also, it would require gauging how many eligible employees are dues-paying union members. If fewer than 60 percent of eligible employees are members, unions would have to be recertified as bargaining agents.
In addition, it would allow public employers to challenge union’ applications to renew registrations as bargaining agents if the employers think the applications are inaccurate.
Also, it would require unions to have audited financial statements, which would need to be made available to members.
House sponsor Dean Black, R-Jacksonville, said the bill would increase transparency and make unions stronger.
“This bill is good for workers, and it will be good for the unions,” Black said.
But opponents argued the bill was an attack on unions and would hurt workers.
“Our constituents deserve better than union-busting tactics like these,” Rep. Rita Harris, D-Orlando, said.
The bill would affect a wide range of public-employees unions, including teachers unions. But it would exempt unions representing law-enforcement officers, correctional officers and firefighters.
Similar bills were proposed repeatedly in recent years, but issues such as the elimination of dues deductions did not pass. The Republican-controlled Senate, however, voted 23-17 on March 29 to approve this year’s version, clearing the way for Wednesday’s House vote.
DeSantis is expected to sign the measure.
Teachers unions played a key role in supporting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist in his unsuccessful bid last year to unseat DeSantis. Crist’s running mate, Karla Hernandez-Mats, is president of the Miami-Dade County teachers union.
The Florida Education Association statewide union issued a news release Wednesday that suggested the bill could face a legal challenge and described DeSantis as a “dictator want-to-be.”
“If Gov. DeSantis thinks he will silence us, he’s dead wrong,” FEA President Andrew Spar said in a prepared statement. “We will do everything in our power to guarantee that Florida’s teachers, staff, professors and all public employees have a voice in their workplaces. No matter the pushback, educators will continue to stand up for our students, our professions and public education.”
But Vincent Vernuccio, senior labor policy adviser for Workers for Opportunity, a group that supports such proposals in numerous states, described the bill as “union democracy at its best.”
“Teachers and other public workers will know their rights,” Vernuccio said in a prepared statement. “They’ll know exactly how much union membership costs them each year. And they’ll know that, if their union isn’t serving them, they can do something about it."