Independent, local Miami teachers’ union earns spot on certification ballot

Independent, local Miami teachers’ union earns spot on certification ballot
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Independent, local Miami teachers’ union earns spot on certification ballot

(MIAMI , Fla.) — Not only will South Florida teachers be getting their first-ever opportunity to weigh in on the effectiveness of their union, but they’ll also have the option of replacing it with an independent, local organization formed by activist educators looking to make a change in their representation.

On May 14, Florida’s Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) issued an order ensuring the Miami-Dade Education Coalition (MDEC) a spot on an as-yet-unscheduled certification election to represent Miami-Dade educators. Its opponent is United Teachers of Dade (UTD), the scandal-ridden incumbent union that for years has bargained away teacher salaries and health benefits and taken credit for the “referendum” bonus pay that was brought about by some of the same activist teachers who started MDEC.

Under terms of SB 256, passed by Florida’s legislature and signed into law last May by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the election was automatically triggered when a mandatory annual audit in December found the union’s dues-paying membership languishing at 56 percent — well short of the law’s 60 percent threshold.

More than 30 public-sector unions around the state have already lost their certification thanks to the new standard. Unlike the others, however, UTD — the country’s third-largest teachers union — is fighting like a cornered animal to preserve its legal monopoly over the Miami community’s education workforce.

UTD, first certified in 1974, hasn’t had to face a vote of its 23,000-plus members since then despite a long history of scandal, corruption and financial misdealing.

Moreover, the local union diverts more than half of its dues revenue to parent organizations like the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). In addition, UTD donates millions more to its pet political candidates and causes, leaving only a fraction of what it confiscates to address the members’ concerns about wages, benefits and working conditions.

“In addition to being incompetent and indifferent, UTD is raking off millions of dues dollars every year and using them to line the pockets of its leaders and corrupt politicians to advance a political agenda repugnant to at least half its membership,” said Rusty Brown, special projects director with the Freedom Foundation, a national union watchdog working closely with MDEC.

“The teachers are tired of being used as a piggy bank for bad ideas and bad people,” he said. “It’s long since time they were given a mechanism to seize back control of their own representation.”

MDEC and its supporters in April presented PERC with more than 2,600 petitions from South Florida teachers — far more than the 10 percent required by law — asking that the startup union be given a spot on the certification election.

UTD tried to invalidate the request, arguing that MDEC had no statutory right to intervene in the election.  But if PERC had followed that logic, it would have been forced to disqualify UTD, too, even without a vote of the members. PERC soundly “reject(ed) UTD’s arguments” in its order.

PERC has ordered that a secret ballot election be held “as soon as practicable,” with the union tallying the most votes being recognized as the exclusive bargaining representative for the Miami-Dade School District’s 23,000 educators.