With a national wind at their back and a Republican majority in their grip, the Florida Legislature is going after unions.
Only days into this year’s session, House and Senate lawmakers have taken up three bills that would weaken the teacher’s labor organization, restrict the political clout of all public unions, and reduce the benefits of all state workers.
On Thursday, a House committee voted 12-6 along party lines for a bill that prevents public unions from using payroll deductions to collect union dues. The Senate passed a teacher pay bill that, among other things, eliminates tenure for teachers hired after July 1 and ties their pay to student performance. And both chambers are moving bills that restrict the collective bargaining clout of unions.
Union representatives say the bevy of bills shows that the Republican-controlled Legislature is capitalizing on a national anti-union sentiment.
“What you’re seeing in Florida isn’t an idea that is begin hatched in Florida,’’ said Ron Meyer, lawyer and lobbyist for the Florida Education Association, the teachers’ union. “They’re simply trying to apply a national square peg into the Florida round hole.’’
Lawmakers and business groups have worried that the bills could trigger chaos at the Capitol similar to Wisconsin, where lawmakers this week voted to end collective bargaining rights of state workers.
But Meyer said it is highly unlikely to happen in Florida because the state imposes strict fines, withholds pension and even salary benefits if union members strike or engage in political activity during work hours.
Also, unlike Wisconsin and Ohio, union membership in Florida is voluntary and the state further restricts public unions by giving the final say on any contract dispute to the public employer. Florida unions can’t strike or seek binding arbitration to resolve a dispute.
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