‘Anti-educator’ bill clears Senate committee as hundreds of Florida teachers and school faculty testify against it

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Hundreds of Florida teachers, some representing thousands of union faculty members, headed to Tallahassee Wednesday to protest a bill they call “anti-educator.” The bill cleared Wednesday’s Senate committee meeting anyway, but teachers are not giving up the fight.

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As far as Senator Victor Torres is concerned, the message was loud and clear.

“There’s no way I’m gonna support this bill,” he said. “Because you heard the testimony from different counties, from different sections of the state opposing this bill.”

Torres is a Democrat who represents parts of Orange and Osceola counties. He also worked in the Marion County school system when he came to Florida in 1993 after spending more than 20 years with New York City’s transit police. Torres said he agreed with what educators like Pat Nichol, a high school teacher in Polk County, had to say.

“No one asked for this bill. I don’t know why it was presented,” she said. “I also don’t know why it’s presented directed at educators only. If this is important to you then it should be union-wide. Police and Firefighters as well.”

Senate Bill 1014

Senate bill 1014 was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Republican who represents parts of Marion, Lake and Sumter counties. The bill was heard Wednesday by the Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability. It puts a number of restrictions on unions representing educators throughout the state. If SB1014 passes, some of those restrictions include not allowing a union to represent employees if fewer than 50-percent of eligible employees are in the union; forcing union members to renew every year; and prohibiting school districts from automatically deducting union dues.

In a news conference after the hearing, Andrew Spar, a Volusia County music teacher and president of the Florida Education Association, said the bill is unnecessary overreach.

“Every year you have to rejoin,” Spar said. “You don’t have to do that with Netflix. Don’t have to do that with AT&T or Sprint. You don’t have to do that with Comcast. You don’t have to do that with any other entity that you have. But they are going to make educators do that every year.”

Eight-hour drive 30-seconds on the mic

Almost 100 school faculty members spoke. Most were given between 30 and 45 seconds to speak. Nearly 100 more didn’t even make it in.

Frederick Ingram, Spar’s predecessor, also spoke. He said opposing the bill is about freeing more time to spend focused on students. He thanked those who came.

“Some of which drove 8 hours today,” he said. “Eight hours to be here to speak for 30 seconds. But that 30 seconds is worth every single kid.”

But Baxley said public schools shouldn’t mingle with unions. He accused unions of looking out for teachers and faculty at the expense of students.

“I Just simply think it’s inappropriate to be intertwined with this publicly held system of a school system with the work of an advocacy group who are advocates – not inappropriately so – for its members, not for the children,” Baxley said.

Faculty who spoke said the overreach is another unnecessary add-on. More paperwork and another set of steps during a time when teachers have been asked to sacrifice and risk so much during a global health crisis.

“Our teachers opened the doors and went into classrooms where you didn’t know what the answer was gonna be to their health and safety,” Ingram said.

Non-partisan

Many who opposed the bill said they were proud Republicans, but the bill was big government getting in the way of personal choice, especially when it comes to paycheck deductions.

“As a Republican educator I am strongly opposed to big government and am offended by the fact that we want the legislature to dictate how I spend my hard-earned pay,” Mary Rivera, a teacher from Marion County, said.

Who knows best?

But Baxley said he was doing them a favor. He said restricting how unions operate with the school system gives more choice.

“I want to make sure it’s your choice and you’re not being leveraged by anyone else to say if you’re in the club you’ve got to belong to this,” he said. “Those are personal, deep decisions and I want you to have every decision in making them.”

In Florida, it’s not required to be in a union. But many opt to do so. They also opt to take deductions from their checks. And it’s not just union dues. Some districts have more than 100 lines for deductions. That can be health insurance and retirement funds or charitable donations and gym memberships. But it’s only the union deduction that the bill would change.

Committee chair Ray Wesley Rodrigues, a Republican from Lee County commended Baxley’s bill and said it actually gives the educators what they want, even if they said otherwise.

“You’ve gotten government out of the middle of that relationship,” he said. “Which is what was asked for in testimony in an earlier meeting. For that I commend you.”

Union members promised to continue fighting SB1014 as it makes its way through the legislative process.