Startup union earns right to face UTD in looming recertification vote

Startup union earns right to face UTD in looming recertification vote
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Startup union earns right to face UTD in looming recertification vote

(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) Miami-Dade County (Fla.) school district employees will soon be getting their first opportunity in nearly 50 years to replace the manifestly corrupt, hyper-partisan, incompetent and indifferent representation they get from United Teachers of Dade (UTD).

On March 11, leaders of a fledgling union dubbed the Miami-Dade Education Coalition (MDEC) and Freedom Foundation staff gathered at the state capitol in Tallahassee to turn in signature cards from 2,564 Dade County teachers and support staffers anxious to hold the first referendum on UTD’s performance since its inception in 1974.

The number of signatures ensures MDEC a spot on the ballot when UTD is subject to a recertification election later this year.

“UTD has been operating as a state-sanctioned monopoly since before most of the teachers in this district were born,” said MDEC President Brent Urbanik. “And it’s provided exactly the kind of shoddy service you’d expect from a monopoly. It’s time to hold the union accountable.”

The recertification process was first set in motion last summer, when the Florida State Legislature passed and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law SB 256, which adopted several common-sense reforms to make the state’s public-sector unions more responsive to both their members and the taxpaying public.

Among these was a provision requiring unions to collect their own dues rather than having it done on their behalf by taxpayer-compensated human resources personnel.

More immediately, however, the legislation required that most government employee unions submit to an annual audit. And when its paid membership is found to be less than 60 percent of the affected workforce, the union must participate in a recertification election.

After an independent audit in December discovered UTD’s membership languishing at 56 percent, the results automatically triggered a vote of the 24,000 teachers and contract employees eligible for membership in the union.

With the school district largely capitulating to UTD’s demands to have MDEC educators and supporters stymied through every possible channel of internal communication between peers, the only viable option became door-to-door canvassing.

With an assist from the Freedom Foundation, a national organization specializing in labor reform, it took only a few weeks to gather the needed signatures.

“We went into this knowing UTD members were widely dissatisfied with their union,” said Freedom Foundation Southern Director Rusty Brown. “But the level of anger we encountered surprised even us. This is a change these people have waited decades for.”

The Florida law is similar to legislation adopted to one degree or another last year in Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Since SB 256 went into effect last summer, more than 30 public-sector unions in Florida have fallen short of the 60 percent threshold and already been decertified.

UTD would be the largest decertification of its kind in U.S. history. Consequently, the struggle has national implications.

In October, United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten tweeted out, “(The) Freedom Foundation, associated with (former Education Secretary) Betsy DeVos and Ron DeSantis, is spending a boatload of money to bust United Teachers of Dade because they want to bust public education and unions. Teachers are fighting back.”

 Successfully qualifying MDEC for the upcoming certification election shows Weingarten was right in one respect – teachers are fighting back. But their opponent isn’t the Freedom Foundation, MDEC, Gov. DeSantis or any other designated boogeyman.

“We’re fighting back against United Teachers of Dade and a 50-year history of funneling at least 80 percent of its members’ dues money out of the district to fund parent organizations like AFT and NEA for their bloated salaries and divisive political agendas that do nothing to improve the lives of teachers,” Urbanik said.

“I’m proud of the hard work everyone associated has put in to get us to this point,” he said. “But when you get right down to it, we couldn’t have done it without UTD. The union’s longstanding habit of thinking of its members as dues dollars to be plundered rather than paying customers to be served is finally coming back to bite it.”