Florida’s largest teachers union files lawsuit after union-busting bill signed into law

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FEA Logo: by Josh Holton/WMNF (5/10/23)

Florida’s largest union for teachers said Wednesday that they are filing a lawsuit in response to Governor Ron DeSantis’ signing a bill Tuesday. They say the law will make it harder for members to pay their dues, putting unions at risk.

With Florida teacher pay ranked near the bottom nationally, members of the Florida Education Association say the ability of unions to help teachers bargain collectively for higher wages is essential. While DeSantis claims this will save teachers money, President of the FEA, Andrew Spar says the new will actually cost them far more.

“Now we have to find an alternative way of collecting these dollars, which has a cost to it, but more importantly, this requirement for audits.”

The new law also requires unions to recertify if the number of dues-paying members drops below 60% of those eligible to join, and Spar is concerned that making it harder for members to pay dues may force recertification, which is also costly.

“We have unions that have revenue of less than $5,000. And they’re going to be required to do an audit that exceeds their revenue. So yes, this is going to have an impact on them because their dues which they chose to pay, in order to do the work of this union, bringing people together, and now there’s a higher cost because of what this legislation lays out.”

Union contracts with school districts could be at risk if they are unable to recertify. That would impact everything from teacher salaries to health insurance premiums.

A second lawsuit is also challenging Florida’s new union law

Here is information about that ©2023 The News Service of Florida By Jim Saunders

TALLAHASSEE — A new law placing additional restrictions on public-employee unions has been hit with a second legal challenge, with unions representing city workers in South Florida saying it violates the state Constitution.

Three unions representing workers in Miami Beach, North Miami Beach, Deerfield Beach, Riviera Beach and West Palm Beach filed a lawsuit late Tuesday in Leon County circuit court, hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the law. Teachers’ unions also filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday arguing that the law violates the U.S. Constitution.

The law, which the Republican-led Legislature passed during a session that ended last week, includes preventing dues from being deducted from workers’ paychecks, forcing union members to make separate payments. Also, for example, it requires gauging how many eligible employees are dues-paying union members. If fewer than 60 percent of eligible employees are members, unions will have to be recertified as bargaining agents.

While the law applies to a variety of public-employee unions across the state, unions representing law-enforcement officers, correctional officers and firefighters are exempted from the restrictions.

The lawsuit filed in Leon County circuit court argues that the law (SB 256) violates collective-bargaining rights under the Florida Constitution. It also argues that the law violates equal-protection rights and unconstitutionally “impairs” already-existing contracts.

“SB 256 is an attack on the fundamental right of public employees to collectively bargain with their employer under (a section of the state Constitution),” the circuit-court lawsuit said. “SB 256 prohibits employees from voluntarily paying dues via deductions from their paychecks and prevents their chosen representatives from negotiating over the same. SB 256 also eliminates the right of public employees to be represented by a union chosen by majority representation irrespective of dues payment despite the fact that Florida is, under our Constitution, a right-to-work state.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Miami Beach Municipal Employees AFSCME Local 1554; North Miami Beach, Florida, City Employees Local 3293, AFSCME; and the Professional Managers and Supervisors Association, which represents workers in Deerfield Beach, Riviera Beach and West Palm Beach. Also, the plaintiffs include three union members: Carlos George, a fire equipment mechanic for Miami Beach; Judy Genao, an administrative assistant for the North Miami Beach Police Department; and Al Leal, a telecommunications superintendent for West Palm Beach.

The lawsuit is filed against the state Public Employees Relations Commission, which will carry out the law.

Many of the issues in the lawsuit are similar to allegations in the federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Florida Education Association and other teachers’ unions. The education lawsuit, however, focuses on federal — instead of state — constitutional issues.

Supporters of the law have argued that the changes, such as ending dues deductions from paychecks, would provide more transparency to workers.

“They don’t know how much is being deducted when they start deducting from the paycheck,” DeSantis said Wednesday during an appearance in Jacksonville. “What we are saying is that it’s not appropriate to have automatic deductions. If you want to do it, you can write a check and hand it to them.”

The lawsuit filed in circuit court, however, argues that issues such as dues deductions have been collectively bargained and are part of existing contracts. As a result, the lawsuit contends the change violates collective bargaining and improperly impairs contracts.

“The state has no compelling interest in prohibiting dues checkoff clauses entered into voluntarily between employers and employee organizations, and no legislative purpose for that prohibition is described in SB 256,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also alleges that the measure violates equal-protection rights because it exempts unions representing law-enforcement officers, correctional officers and firefighters. For instance, while George and Genao work for a fire department and a police department, they do not belong to the same unions as firefighters and law enforcement officers.

The lawsuit said changes in the law “do not apply equally to all public employees or their unions. Rather they are selectively and arbitrarily applied only to disfavored employees and unions, while certain favored employees and unions — those that are certified to represent police, fire or corrections officers — are inexplicably exempted from SB 256’s abridgements.”

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