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Florida unions say they are under attack again

Florida’s largest teachers’ union fights to keep schools closed.
Florida’s largest teachers’ union fights to keep schools closed.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Under legislation passed through its first Senate committee in the Florida State Capitol on Wednesday, teachers, police and other public-sector union members would have to reaffirm their desire to be in their union.

Sponsors argue the bill makes sure employees have the final say on their money, but unions say it’s an effort to hurt them.

Police, firefighters, teachers and even government clerks would have to proactively confirm they want to continue their union membership under legislation moving at the Capitol.

Sponsor Ray Rodrigues wants those union members to know they have alternatives.

“The acknowledgment must include a statement that payment of union dues is voluntary and that the employee may not be discriminated against based upon union membership,” said Senator Rodrigues.

But union sympathizers allege the bill is about much more.

“This bill is just another attempt at union-busting,” said State Senator Victor Torres.

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The bill would require public-sector union members to proactively tell their employer they want to stay in a union at least every three years or after each new contract.

“We would ask what is the compelling reason to insert the employer between the employee and their union,” said Stephanie Kunkel with the Florida Education Association.

Law enforcement unions, in particular, are worried that someone will miss the notice to re-up and then not have any benefits if they get hurt.

The legislation cleared its first committee on a 4-2 vote.

“It encourages that discussion between a member and their union,” said Senator Kelli Stargel.

“I heard from the law enforcement, firefighters, teachers, health care workers and they are asking us not to support this bill,” said Senator Linda Stewart.

Sponsor Rodrigues rejects the union busing characterization.

“We think there should be a signed authorization, signed by the employer before the employee’s pay is reduced,” said Rodrigues.

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If the bill becomes law, public sector unions would not be allowed to ask anyone why they dropped their membership.

The bill cleared the House last year but was never taken up in the Senate.

Union leaders worry it stands a better chance this year since it’s getting such an early hearing in the Senate.