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Florida teachers sue state over anti-union law

The law targets teachers over other professions for changes in union certification.

CREDIT: Getty Images
CREDIT: Getty Images

Florida teachers are challenging a state union-busting bill that passed in March and officially went into effect on Sunday. On Monday, local teacher organizations, individual teachers, and the Florida Education Association sued the state over the law.

The measure, which was part of an omnibus education bill, HB 7055, says that unions would be decertified if they can’t reach at least 50 percent of the instructional personnel employees eligible for representation. That means they won’t have collective bargaining power to negotiate for things like higher wages and other conditions of employment.

Florida is a right-to-work state, meaning employees aren’t required to pay union dues or be a union member. Lawmakers who voted for this measure likely knew that by requiring 50 percent of teachers to pay dues or have their unions face decertification, they would significantly undermine teachers unions. Employees who “free ride” or benefit from the union services without paying dues are held against the union. 

In the lawsuit, which was filed in Leon County Civil Court and names defendants as the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission, teachers say they have been unfairly targeted.

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‘We’re not feeling defeated. We’re feeling angry and we’re ready to do something about it. We’re tired of being the target of legislators,” Melissa Rudd, Wakulla teacher organization president, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told the Tampa Bay Times.

The lawsuit argues that the legislature violated the state’s single subject requirement by passing the law. Florida’s constitution says that every law “shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed within the title.”

The union-busting measure was originally in House Bill 25, which made clear that it did not apply to unions for law enforcement officers, correctional officers, or firefighters. The bill was withdrawn from consideration in March and did not receive a hearing in the Senate. The measure only succeeded as part of the omnibus bill, which as the lawsuit filed Monday notes, includes subjects that don’t have any very much of relationship to each other.

The complaint adds that there is “no compelling state interest to treat instructional staff members of public school boards in a manner from all other classes of public employees.”

If the court sides with teachers, there would be implications for other measures in the legislation, including a school choice scholarship program for harassed students  to transfer to another public school or an eligible private school, modifications to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, and an initiative that allows principals who are considered highly effective to manage multiple schools within a certain zone.

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HB 7055 is similar to attacks on unions in other states. In Wisconsin, Act 10 mandates unions go through recertification every year and that unions must have support from the majority of employees in the bargaining unit. 

If this strategy of wounding teachers unions spread to even more states, the results could be devastating, particularly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME last week, which held that public sector workers who aren’t union members still have a constitutional right to get union representation without “agency fees” or “fair share fees.” Before Janus, these workers could say they refuse to give money to union political activities but could still be required to contribute to the union for its services.