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Republicans are again targeting local labor and teachers unions

 A classroom in evening light, with warm shadows across rows of desks
Patrick Sternad
WFSU Public Media
An empty classroom at Governors Charter School as students attend lunch break.

Florida lawmakers are again taking aim at public employee unions. A proposal to raise the membership threshold to 60% and prevent automatic withdrawals for union dues is moving in the legislature over accusations that it targets some of Republicans’ most vocal critics.  

“What is the intent of your bill? What are you trying to accomplish?”  asked Rep. Dottie Joseph to Rep Dean Black during a hearing on Black's bill regarding union membership and dues.

“Transparency, integrity, accountability," Black replied, “a set of circumstances where the government union makes itself more accountable to its workers by virtue of the need to have higher levels of membership that they must then seek out.”  

The proposal would increase the minimum union membership level to 60%. If it falls below that, a union would face decertification. The bill also prevents dues from being automatically withdrawn from public employee paychecks. Some unions would be spared including those representing police and firefighters—two groups that tend to endorse Republicans.

Those NOT spared? All other public employee unions that represent healthcare workers, teachers, and local government workers like 911 operators, utility employees, and sanitation workers—many of whom were deemed “essential workers” during the pandemic.

“During the pandemic we kept public services going during very tough times and were called essential frontline heroes. Now, I guess we’re considered zeroes," said Stephen Simon of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1464 out of Tampa.

He spoke out against the measure during a Senate committee hearing on the bill. While bill sponsors deny they’re targeting a specific union, a staff analysis of the proposal specifically mentions local teachers union membership—it shows them by county and what percentage of membership each local union has.

“I’m simply going to say that in the free state of Florida, employees should be free to decide how to direct their paycheck and spend the money they have earned," said Stephanie Kunkel, a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

Senate bill sponsor Blaise Ingoglia argues the measure will help unions. In defense of the measure, he cited his own father’s membership in a New York labor group. Ingoglia told a Senate committee the story of what happened when his father’s union made the switch to automatic payroll deductions.

“They used to sit down get the check, have some coffee, donuts, whatever, and talk about the issues going on. He said as soon as they had payroll deduction [he] never say the union rep. anymore," Ingoglia said.

This isn’t this particular bill’s first rodeo in the legislature. A similar measure was signed into law a few years ago that raised the membership threshold to 50%. Many unions saw their membership levels increase amid a big push to save themselves from decertification.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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