GOP lawmakers propose new rules for Florida’s teachers unions

File photo
File photo (News Service of Florida)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Republicans are taking aim at public sector labor unions with two bills passed through a House committee Monday.

One of the measures specifically targets teachers unions by not allowing teachers to have their union dues deducted directly from their paychecks. State Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, said the bill is about getting government out of the way.

“We live in a digital age,” Byrd said. “It’s much simpler now for someone who derives a benefit from a service, that they pay that service directly.”

But in the bill’s first committee hearing, Florida’s largest teachers union said the bill would do just the opposite.

“This is a bill putting government in between an individual’s right to join a union,” Stephanie Kunkel with the Florida Education Association said. “Stop interfering in the rights of employees to direct how they get their paycheck and what they do with their paycheck.”

The teachers union bill would also expand a measure passed last year requiring that unions representing K-12 employees maintain at least 50 percent membership to keep their certification.

Under the bill, unions representing university and college employees would also have to meet the 50-percent threshold.

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, questioned the timing of the legislation, pointing to teachers’ front-line role through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s important for us to just call a spade a spade,” Smith said. “These are union-busting bills targeting our teachers who have been our heroes through this pandemic, who really have sacrificed so much.”

Asked why the bill singles out teachers but does not cover police, firefighters and state workers, Byrd said the goal was to keep the focus of his legislation narrow.

“That’s something that could be considered moving forward, but once again, the focus of the bill is in the education sector and I wanted to keep mine narrow, knowing that others had bills dealing with unions more broadly,” Byrd said.

One of the other union bills was also approved in the same meeting. It would require all public sector employees to reauthorize their membership every three years or any time their contract is renegotiated.