Controversial union dues bill backed in Florida Senate

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With unions and business groups squaring off, a Senate committee Wednesday backed a controversial proposal about the process for deducting union dues from the paychecks of public employees.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill (SB 78), which appears to be moving quickly toward a vote by the full Senate after the 2021 legislative session starts in March.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, would, in part, add a new step in which government employers would have to confirm with workers that they want dues taken out of their pay before the deductions could start.

That would be in addition to a current process of union bargaining agents submitting written requests to begin deductions.

Also, employee authorizations to deduct dues would end when new collective bargaining agreements are reached or three years after the deductions begin, whichever is earlier.

Rodrigues and other supporters argue the bill would help ensure that employees have final say about money they have earned.

“This is a teacher’s paycheck protection,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who is a member of the Judiciary Committee. But critics argue there is no need for the bill and that workers are not requesting the changes.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, described the bill as “borderline intimidation.”

The bill has drawn opposition from major unions, including the Florida AFL-CIO, the Florida Education Association, the Florida Police Benevolent Association and Florida Professional Firefighters.

“How many workers are asking for this?” Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, said during Wednesday’s committee meeting.

But the measure has support from groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida and the National Federation of Independent Business.

Chris Emmanuel, a lobbyist for the Florida Chamber, described the bill as a “good governance” piece of legislation that would ensure everybody follows the same rules.

The bill is slated to go to the Senate Rules Committee next week and then could be ready to go to the full Senate.