Florida bills would make government unions more transparent, accountable

Florida bills would make government unions more transparent, accountable
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Florida bills would make government unions more transparent, accountable

(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) — Republicans in Florida’s Legislature wasted little time trying to leverage supermajorities in both houses in order to enact a measure that would curtail the influence of Big Labor over the state’s public workforce and, by extension, government at every level.

On March 7 — the first day of the 2023 legislative session — GOP members of the Senate Oversight and Accountability committee quickly approved SB 256, whose House companion measure was overwhelmingly approved a year ago but never received a committee hearing in the Senate.

The proposal, dubbed the “Paycheck Protection Bill,” includes language that would, among other things:

  • prevent the state from deducting dues on behalf of unions from public employees’ paychecks, forcing unions to do their own billing and collections;
  • require audits of unions representing public employees;
  • require union membership cards to include wording echoing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which recognized the right of public employees to decline union membership, due and fees with no loss of representation or benefits; and,
  • close the legal loopholes unions use to prevent members from voting to decertify them.

Both bills exempt law enforcement and firefighter unions from the proposed changes.

Florida lawmakers have considered similar bills in the past without success, but the GOP currently holds decisive advantages in both the House and Senate.

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, issued a statement characterizing the bill as “…an attack, pure and simple, on educators’ basic freedoms and rights.”

“Baloney,” countered Rusty Brown, southern director of the Freedom Foundation, a national public policy watchdog that specializes in reducing the influence of government employee unions.

“The law,” Brown said, “would do nothing to prevent state, county and local workers from organizing and bargaining collectively for better wages, benefits and working conditions — the rightful role of unions. It would simply make them more transparent and accountable, which is only a problem if you have something to hide.”

For generations, Brown explained, states without right-to-work protections could compel public employees to either become dues-paying union members or charge nonmembers a so-called “agency fee.” The Supreme Court, in Janus, affirmed that mandatory union participation violates the workers’ First Amendment rights to free speech and association, but the ruling has been difficult to enforce.

“These measures in Florida are nothing more than a way to scale back long-entrenched protections to which unions were never entitled under the Constitution in the first place,” Brown said. “If workers want to be in a union, this bill would do nothing to stop them. It just protects the rights of those who don’t.”

“This is a bad bill,” Gretchen Robinson, a Florida Education Association member, told Orlando Weekly. “It’s a mean bill. It’s going to hurt families, and it’s going to hurt all educators’ families and especially it’s going to hurt working-class families.”

In fact, the only thing the bill could conceivably hurt is the continued viability of the FEA, which currently only has a 54 percent membership rate — a number that could easily drop even further once a safeguard is implemented to verify union membership data.

“These bills are pro-worker because they make it easier for state employees to do what’s in their best interest rather than what’s in the best interest of their union,” Brown concluded. “Even better, it makes the state government accountable to the residents of Florida rather than a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Labor, the way it is in too many other states.”