Union workers are lined up along the walls leading up to a legislative committee room where proposed legislation could weaken public sector unions. (Photo credit: Mitch Perry)
A measure that union officials say would substantially weaken public sector unions in Florida is one step closer to moving to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk for consideration.
A GOP-controlled House committee passed legislation Tuesday that would ban public-employee union members from having their dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. Instead, members would have to separately pay dues if they wished to.
The bill also would require unions to be decertified if they don’t count at least 60 percent of their bargaining unit as dues-paying members. The union would then have to petition the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) for recertification.
Those measures would not impact police, firefighter and correctional officer employee unions.
Democrats say that those unions generally are more supportive toward Republican candidates, and that’s why they contend that they are exempted from the legislation.
Republican Dean Black, who represents Nassau and part of Duval, is carrying the bill in the Florida House. He said the proposal was actually good for public sector unions.
“This bill will ultimately strengthen unions,” Black told the House State Affairs Committee. “That is the goal of this bill.”
But opponents of the bill said it will do nothing of the sort.
“I mean no disrespect,” said Rich Templin, the Florida AFL-CIO director of politics and public policy. “But don’t pee on me and tell me it’s raining.”
Miami Democrat Ashley Gantt questioned Black about the exemption of police, fire and corrections unions from the bill.
“We treat public safety differently,” Black replied. “They protect us.”
Florida is one of 26 “right to work” states around the country, where an employee can enjoy the benefits of a union contract without being required to be a dues-paying member (last month Michigan became the first state in decades to repeal their right-work status when it comes to union participation). Opponents say the legislation will result in decertifying some of the unions because they believe they won’t be able to get 60% of the members to request a paycheck deduction.
The bill also requires every employee organization representing public employees to provide its members with an annual audited financial report and include an annual audited financial statement in its registration renewal application.
Prior to the start of the committee meeting, more than 100 union members assembled on both sides of a corridor that connects the Capitol building and the Knott Building on the House side of the complex. Union members held signs and sang “Solidarity forever.”
Then, the testimony from the public grew intense at times.
Gainesville resident Tyler Forest said the bill sponsors were lying to the public about their intentions with the legislation.
“The amount of spin that these sponsors have put on these bills is rivaled only by a Cat 5 hurricane,” he said. “But instead of wind and rain, this is a whirlwind of lies, BS and money.”
After Forest said that the Senate bill sponsor had raised more than $100,000 in March, he was interrupted by Hillsborough County Republican Lawrence McClure, the committee chairman.
“In five years in the Florida Legislature, I’m unaware that I’ve heard in 30 seconds a more offensive public testimony,” McClure said. “The insinuation that members of this committee. This body. The Florida Legislature are somehow bought and paid for? It’s just offensive.”
The sponsor is in fact Republican Blaise Ingoglia. In the month of March, a Government Gone Wild PAC, chaired by Ingoglia, received contributions of $107,500, according to the Division of Elections. In addition, a Friends of Blaise Ingoglia PAC received $72,500 in the month of March. Ingoglia had another pot of money, $19,669, in his regular campaign account.
Although the bill has mostly been supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, there were numerous union members who spoke to the committee who self-identified as Republicans – such as Patrick Strong, who described himself as a conservative Republican from Okaloosa County, where he works at the local school district.
“I’ve always taught my kids you can never get to right by doing wrong,” he said. “This bill is wrong.”
Many union members said it was government overreach.
Broward County Democrat Robin Bartleman said the bill didn’t level the playing field and if the Legislature truly wanted to do that for working people, they would repeal state law that prohibits public employees from striking, eliciting a round of applause from the audience.
“To everyone on this committee, look at this room! These are the working families of Florida!” Bartleman exclaimed. “They’re the ones who put you in office and you’re going to hurt them? This is vindictive and a mean bill, and we should vote it down, because we are hurting the very people that we are paid to represent.”
The bill is supported by business groups like the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the James Madison Institute and Americans for Prosperity.
The 60% percent threshold for unions builds off of a 2018 state law that decertifies teacher unions if they don’t get 50 percent of their bargaining unit as dues paying members. For the 2021-22 renewal period, only one bargaining unit reported less than 50 percent due paying membership. That employee organization petitioned for recertification and was approved by over 92 percent of the employees voting in the recertification election, according to the Senate bill analysis of the legislation.
The bill was approved by a party line vote in the House State Affairs Committee. It will now go to the full House for a vote.
The Florida Senate has already approved the measure, 23-17, with five Republicans crossing party lines to join Democrats in opposing the proposal.
The Kentucky Legislature passed a similar bill recently, but it was vetoed by Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, last month. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
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