Anti-union bill squeaks by Senate committee listen03/14/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Following the lead of Wisconsin, the Florida legislature is challenging unions on the issue of collective bargaining for public workers. A key measure that would changes the way unions collect dues passed a state senate committee today, despite the pleas of police and firefighters who went to Tallahassee to testify.
Jacksonville Republican John Thrasher sponsored SB 830, a measure that would bar public employee unions from collecting their dues via automatic paycheck deductions. Thrasher said his bill is not anti-union.
"There is nothing, nothing in this bill that prohibits an individual from still continuing to join a union. Nothing. Nothing in this bill does that. So, I really frankly quite don't understand some of the concerns."
Among these concerns is that the move is an attempt to silence public workers’ unions. Bill supporters say unions may be spending dues money on political campaigns that aren’t in line with the values of their members. Many unions supported Democratic candidates in last year’s election. Adam Babington of the Florida Chamber of Commerce said he’s heard complaints about how the dues are being spent.
"What we're hearing from union members is that they would like to have more say in how their dues are spent. And that this is a way to ensure that union leadership is checking more frequently with the rank and file union members to ensure that what they're engaging in is appropriate and reflective of their values."
Jeff McAdams, President of the Gainesville Fraternal Order of Police, said he’s never heard anyone in his organization complain about where the dues are going.
"The attempt to say that this will give workers more rights, I challenge you today to find one member in the city of Gainesville that I represent that has complained to any Senator or anyone that we have improperly used our dues money."
Currently, dues can be deducted from a worker’s paycheck. But if it passes, this bill would require union members to take the extra step to pay their dues directly to the union. This takes the responsibility for arranging the payroll deductions off local and state government employers, and places dues collection squarely on unions. Graham Fountain of the Walton County Sheriff’s Department, said it would take the cost of processing dues payments off the taxpayers.
"They have placed a post where their secretary and treasurer can be reached to collect dues and fees and when the bank messes up instead of sitting on the telephone for 20 minutes trying to figure it out, let them do that. The banks have online bill pay, as you know. This bill is about letting the union to process their own fees and dues and manage their own program without the taxpayer having to manage it."
Opponents are afraid it would saddle public worker unions with excessive administrative costs at a time when they’re already taxed. Plus, they say, it would discourage union participation because it’s less convenient and could hurt the credibility of union leadership. Unlike other states, Florida is a so-called “right-to-work” state, which means that union membership isn’t a mandatory condition of employment for workers within a unionized industry. Speaking on behalf of the Bradenton Firefighters, Rocco Salvatori said this is what sets Florida apart from many other states.
"I believe a lot of the language for bills like this that are popping up all over the country came from states that have closed shops, to where you don't have a choice. Maybe there's a valid argument for some of the PAC language in there in states like that but in Florida I can very easily just say I don't want to pay for your organization any more and still receive almost all of the same benefits as a dues paying member."
The Senate’s Community Affairs Committee passed the measure five to four. While unions have often supported Democratic politicians, the debate over SB 830 didn’t fall along party lines. Senators Paula Dockery and Jim Norman were two Republicans opposing the measure. Dockery said the government shouldn’t be dictating how wage earners spend their money.
"Once these individuals are paid it becomes their money and we shouldn't tell them how to spend their money. We really have no standing in this. Why are we getting involved in how these individuals decide to use their money."
Cheryl Schroeder, Executive Director of the West Central Florida AFL-CIO, said the bill would be detrimental to Florida’s public workers unions.
"Basically Senate Bill 830 in a "right-to-work" state such as Florida hampers a union's ability to charge dues through the payroll deduction process and therefore build it's strength among the collective bargaining units that they represent. It will really devestate local unions and their ability to, again, fund their programs."
Senator Mike Bennett said Senate Bill 830 will now head to the Senate Governmental Oversight Committee for further consideration before it goes to the Senate floor. There is a similar bill making its way through the state House.