Florida anti-union bill targets teachers, but not law enforcement

The bill would decertify unions where less than 50 percent of members don't pay dues.

Unionized teachers with ASPIRA charter school network rally outside an ASPIRA high school to convince the company's management to come to terms on a contract on March 9, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. CREDIT: Getty Images
Unionized teachers with ASPIRA charter school network rally outside an ASPIRA high school to convince the company's management to come to terms on a contract on March 9, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. CREDIT: Getty Images

A bill to automatically decertify public-sector unions that fail to reach a threshold of 50 percent of dues-paying members may pass the Florida legislature this week.

House Bill 25 would target all public-sector unions except those representing law enforcement officers and firefighters. Teachers unions criticized the measure, arguing that they are disproportionately targeted. Less than 10 percent of workers in some American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees chapters that represent state employees pay dues. Americans for Prosperity, a group that has received funding from the Koch brothers, lobbied hard for the bill.

Last month, Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association, told Capitol News Service that the bill was union-busting, adding that it targets teachers unions. “This is definitely political. This is about silencing a voice. We have been politically active. We speak up. We speak out,” she said.

The bill’s sponsor, Florida state representative Scott Plakon (R), introduced a “nearly identical” bill last year, according to The St. Augustine Record. The last bill, HB 11, easily passed the Florida House in March, but the Senate did not indicate that the bill was a priority, according to the Miami Herald.

Although the bill is consistent with attacks on unions in other states, it is unique in a few ways, said Joseph E. Slater, Eugene N. Balk Professor of Law and Values at the University of Toledo. Most states have adopted rules from private-sector law in which unions can’t be decertified when there is a valid contract existing between the union and employer, Slater said. But every three years, there is a one-month window where decertification elections take place. If the bill passed, it would represent a big change in how decertification happens.

“Decertification elections under typical labor law rules have nothing to do with what percentage of the bargaining unit are actual dues-paying union members,” Slater said. “When a ‘window’ for an election occurs, an election is triggered if and when at least 30 percent of the bargaining unit members sign the appropriate forms requesting such an election. And in the election, the majority of voters taking part in the election decide the issue. That’s how it works in the private sector, and in almost all public-sector jurisdiction.”

In 2011, Wisconsin passed a law, Act 10, mandating unions to go through recertification every year, whether employees requested them or not, and to get support from a majority of the employees in the bargaining unit, a higher bar than the majority of those voting in the certification election. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, union members made up 14.2 percent of workers before the law passed. In 2015, union members made up 8.3 percent of workers.

Iowa also recently passed a law that required a majority of all members in the bargaining unit to approve of certification. Previously, unions only needed the majority of those who voted in the election to approve of certification.

But the Florida bill is uniquely harmful to unions in a way that some of these other laws are not, Slater said. Florida is a right-to-work state where union members are not required to pay dues, so the focus on how many members pay dues will surely hurt the unions, Slater explained.

“Because unions are still legally obligated, under the doctrine of the duty of fair representation, to represent members of bargaining units in negotiations and grievance/arbitration procedures without regard to whether the employee pays dues or not, some employees choose to ‘free ride’ because they can get union services without having to pay for them. Under this bill, that would be held against the union in determining its very existence,” Slater said. “This law would be unique and very harmful to unions.”

Rep. Plakon said that the percentage of people willing to pay dues was representative of whether they saw value in a union.

“I guess you can call it an assumption, but if 97 percent of people do not see enough value in being represented by this bargaining unit to not even pay a nominal amount of dues then I would suggest there is a real question whether they are properly representing those people,” Plakon said last month.

Michelle Dillon, president of the St. Johns Education Association, told the Augustine Record that she fears it will have more traction this time around since, unlike the last time a bill was introduced, there is now a Senate companion bill.