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Challenge to teacher unions law dropped

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Plaintiffs including the Florida Education Association have dismissed a lawsuit challenging a controversial 2018 state law that can require teacher unions to be recertified to represent employees.

The plaintiffs filed a one-paragraph notice of dismissal last Friday, two weeks before Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey was scheduled to hold a hearing on a request by the state for summary judgment upholding the law, records show.

Dempsey in August issued a ruling that rejected some of the key arguments raised by the law's opponents. The notice filed last Friday did not explain the decision to dismiss the case, and two of the plaintiffs' attorneys did not respond to messages seeking explanation. The plaintiffs dismissed the case "without prejudice," a legal move that leaves open the possibility of a future lawsuit on the issue.

The law, which drew heavy debate during the 2018 legislative session, can require teacher unions to be recertified if fewer than 50 percent of the employees eligible for representation are dues-paying members.

The Florida Education Association, unions in several counties and individual teachers filed the lawsuit in July 2018 challenging the constitutionality of the law. In part, they argued that the new requirement violated collective-bargaining rights and equal-protection rights, as the requirements did not apply to other public-sector unions.

In a document filed in March, attorneys for the unions and teachers wrote that the recertification requirement in the law "imposes numerous burdens upon instructional employees, but no other category of public employees." If required to go through the recertification process, a union would be required by the law to get statements of support from 30 percent of the bargaining unit and then hold an election.

"If it fails to earn a favorable vote of 50 percent of the voting employees, it faces decertification," the motion for summary judgment said. "This will leave the employees of the unit with no collective bargaining representative. Even if the organization is not decertified, the employees in the bargaining unit are burdened by their chosen representative having to redirect its resources from collective bargaining activities in order to ensure it meets a certain membership level every year. These are significant burdens upon plaintiffs' right to effective collective bargaining."

But Attorney General Ashley Moody's office, which defended the law for the state, disputed such arguments in a September motion for summary judgment.

That motion said the recertification requirement "does absolutely nothing to infringe upon public school teachers' right to have union representation for collective bargaining should they decide to want it."

"The only ‘risk' that arises under the recertification requirement is that union representatives forced to seek reelection might be voted out by teachers," the motion said. "But this ‘risk' is solely to the union representative, not to any of the teachers in the unit. Regardless of whether a majority of the teachers are or are not paying dues, their jobs are unaffected."

The state also repeatedly cited Dempsey's August ruling that rejected some of the unions' arguments. Dempsey wrote that the law did not violate collective-bargaining rights and pointed to the state's teacher shortage as a reason for treating teachers different than other employees. She wrote that the state "recognizes the need for further accommodations when it comes to public school teachers."