The Phoenix Flyer

What’s the rush? Democrats question urgency of GOP plan to change payment of union dues

By: - February 10, 2021 4:30 pm

Sen. Ray Rodrigues is sponsoring a fast-track bill to change the way public employees authorize paycheck deductions for union dues. Screenshot: The Florida Channel

Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee approved fast-tracked legislation on Wednesday that Florida labor groups call a union-buster bill.

Sen. Ray Rodrigues, a Lee County Republican, said his Senate Bill 78 simply adds a second layer of affirmation that a public employee wants union dues deducted from his or her paycheck before the deductions may begin.

No public employees testified in favor of the bill, which is supported by business interests including Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and which unions oppose.

Rodrigues acknowledged that public employees already authorize the deductions in writing, and he cited no case in which an employee claimed his or her paycheck was tapped in error.

Hearing no evidence of a problem, Democrats questioned the purpose of the bill and criticized Senate Republican leaders for prioritizing it ahead of hundreds of other bills introduced for hearings in the legislative session starting March 2.

They pointed out that this bill already has had two committee hearings, despite it having no counterpart in the House of Representatives.

“Quite frankly, the fact that we’re dealing with this bill this early in the process is concerning,” said Sen. Perry Thurston, a Broward County Democrat. He said no one had reported to him any problems with voluntary union dues being deducted from paychecks.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Republican representing parts of Sumter, Lake, and Marion counties, suggested employees need “protection” from unions that may otherwise deduct money to which they are not entitled, although no senator on the committee cited an instance of that happening. He said he has three daughters-in-law who teach but not in public schools because they don’t like how public-school unions spend their members’ money.

“I’m looking out for teachers. This is a teacher’s paycheck protection,” Baxley said.

Judiciary Committee Vice Chair Audrey Gibson, a Duval County Democrat, described the plan as “borderline intimidation.” It could discourage employees from joining a union by requiring them to attest more than once while authorizing a payroll deduction for union dues that they understand they do not have to join, she said.

Sen. Tina Scott Polsky, a Democrat representing parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, was clearly irked that the committee was spending time on this bill in the absence of any testimony that there was a problem in urgent need of attention.

“We’re here to fix problems that exist,” Polsky said, citing widespread unemployment as a well-documented problem more worthy of the committee’s time and attention. “This bill doesn’t help anyone.”

Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley, representing the north-central Florida district formerly served by her husband, Rob Bradley, said she voted for the bill despite reservations about adding more bureaucracy to a system that appears to be working fine.

Rich Templin, legislative director of the Florida AFL-CIO, asked supporters of the bill to identify who is pushing for its passage and why.

“Why is the Florida Senate, in a time of great crisis and a pandemic that most impacts the very workers who are impacted by this bill, pursuing — no, actually rushing at breakneck speed — legislation like this, without any data or evidence of a problem, and that nobody directly impacted has asked for?” Templin asked, receiving no reply.

The attestation at the core of Rodrigues’ bill is this: “I acknowledge and understand that Florida is a right-to-work state and that union membership is not required as a condition of employment. I understand that union membership and payment of union dues and assessments is voluntary and that I may not be discriminated against in any manner if I refuse to join or financially support a union.”

Speaking against Rodrigues’ bill were representatives of the Florida Education Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, Florida Professional Firefighters, Florida Policy Action Network and others.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at [email protected]