Florida House passes bill targeting union dues process listen03/25/11 Kate Bradshaw
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As the battle over state workers’ unions continues in Wisconsin, the Sunshine state may be in for a fight of its own. Today the State House of Representatives passed a bill that would prevent state and local government employees from paying their union dues by way of automatic paycheck deduction. Opponents say the bill’s GOP supporters are trying to strip away workers’ rights.
Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens told his colleagues that his job has an elected member of the Florida House of Representatives has been a little tough lately.
"I walk in this building every morning and one of the first questions I ask of my aide is who are we sticking it to today? So far we're piling up quite a lengthy list. We've stuck it to the unemployed already. We've stuck it to teachers. We're sticking it to public employees, women, and now we're sticking it to unions."
At issue this morning was House Bill 1021, which bars state and local governments from automatically deducting public workers’ union dues from their paychecks. The controversial bill also requires unions to get written authorization from their members before it can spend money on political activity. Chris Dorworth said it no longer makes sense for state government to automatically deduct union dues, given the range of other ways by which workers’ unions can do so.
"In 1979, when the legislation was passed that created the payroll deduction, technology was different. We never heard of PayPal, we never heard of online banking, we never heard of online. So there was such a different time and place, maybe there was a need for that."
Democratic State Representative Joe Gibbons of Pembroke Park said the stated reasoning behind the strongly Republican-backed bill was pure subterfuge.
"If you are honestly and truly attempting to limit taxpayer dollars for political activities, then write the legislation that accomplishes that goal. Members, we create and change laws based on a demand to fix something that is broken. The collection of union dues is not a broken process and does not need to be fixed or meddled with."
House Republicans appeared to take offense to the bill’s opponents’ suggestion that they were trying to weaken unions. Miami Republican Carlos Garcia-Lopez said the bill would actually empower workers who may not agree with the political activity the union is doing on their behalf.
"It simply says 'once a year, one little piece of paper, I agree, disagree with the political messaging of my union. If I agree, okay, take my money. If I don't, I want my money back.'
Longwood Republican Scott Plakon said the bill would make unions more member-driven.
"This bill is about individual member choice and strengthening that. Opposition to union member's choices and how dues are spent is not meant to enhance the individual member's voices but is meant to proliferate the political scope and power of the union itself."
Miami Beach Democrat Richard Steinberg disagreed. He said, just like citizens elect the state legislature to represent them in Tallahassee, union members choose their leadership to act on their behalf.
"Think about the legislative process. People elect us to make decisions. If they don't like a decision, what we're doing with our tax dollars, they can't say ' I'm not going to pay it.' They can't go into the food store or somewhere else and when they say 'There's sales tax on there, you know what? I don't want to pay it because I don't like what the Florida legislature is doing.' "
Boca Raton Democrat Irving Slosberg said, plain and simple, the bill is political retribution against a block that tends to support Democrats.
"Some elected officials are actually saying on the record that they think union workers, they're living luxuriously and working half-time jobs. In a comic strip these comments would be humorous. To hear such things around the House Chamber, it's chilling. I have to ask, is this bill political retribution, is this some kind of ideological war against individuals who feel that unions hold a deserved place in history?"
Gwendolyn Clark-Reed, a Pompano Beach Democrat, said the legislation is just one piece of a series of proposed laws targeting unions, and is in effect targeting state workers’ civil rights. She said the state legislature needs to get its priorities straight.
"Our main objective in this body is to pass the budget. This bill has nothing to do with passing the budget. I find that this bill has no reason to be brought up in this Chamber. I am a union member and I resent the arrogance at which this bill is being presented."
But St. Petersburg Republican Jim Frishe said it’s all about keeping unions and governing bodies separate.
"The machinery of government should never be used for partisan political activity and that's what we're doing here. It doesn't make any more sense than having your church tithe taken out of your paycheck by the government."
St. Petersburg Democrat Rick Kriseman said the GOP’s logic on the bill has changed so much, it reminds him of the Terminator.
"First, the argument was that the state shouldn't be in the business of wage deductions. So I filed an amendment in committee that would completely take the state totally out of wage deductions. That amendment was defeated and then the argument shapeshifted. It became one that the state should get out of the business of collecting political collections. Then Representative Gibbons filed an amendment that would go directly to that point and guess what happened? The argument shapeshifts again. Now we're talking about protecting union members and giving them a voice. Members, it's a good thing that this debate is ending today because I just don't think there's a whole lot more shapeshifting that could go on."
The bill passed essentially along party lines, with a 73-40 vote. Last week in the Senate a similar bill just barely made it out of committee, with two Republican voting against it. The bill has to get full Senate approval before Governor Rick Scott can sign it into law. Critics called it the “worker gag” bill.