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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Memo to teachers: Don't try anything resembling a strike

29

March

Efforts in the Florida Legislature to dismantle teacher contracts, certification, pay scales and other aspects of the state's public education system has teachers up in arms.

Many have threatened to work the contract and no more. Some have suggested that everyone suddenly come down with the blue flu. They all have sick days, after all. Who's to say all Florida teachers won't suddenly become ill on the same day? Right?

The United School Employees of Pasco has cautioned its members not to go there. It's against the law, with the main result being firings with loss of pension, and possible fines.

"Employees that participate can be terminated, may only be reemployed only on a probationary basis, have their salaries frozen for a year and most drastically, lose their retirement if found to have violated any state law against strikes.

"So as difficult as the times are, as frustrating as it is to contend with false promises and outright assaults on public education and its employees, FEA and USEP are appealing to all of its members to exercise their right to free speech and communicate their concerns, fears and frustration to their state legislators. Tell them how misguided and harmful their uninspired punitive legislation is, but be wary about engaging in any conduct which could be thought of as a strike. After all, once the dust settles, Florida schools and students will need our members, FEA and USEP even more."

Read on to see the full memo. Then tell us, how far are you willing to go to stop SB 6? And what will you do if it becomes law?


Why Can’t We Strike? (Note: What follows is a memo from the United School Employees of Pasco to its members)

"As the Florida Legislature continues to impose its anti-public education agenda, we education employees must push forward and preserve. The legislature’s callous action has created tension, frustration and outright anger. We must work to un-elect those who seek to dismantle education and undermine the sanctity of collective bargaining. Indeed, the Florida Education Association and USEP will continue our efforts in this regard until fairness and rationality is brought back to this state. Our members are angry, disillusioned,and frustrated; they want to lash out at someone or something…Many have asked why we don’t organize a strike, walk-out, sick out or work stoppage. The simple reason is it’s against the law, and the penalties are steep.

"Below is information from the Chief Counsel of the Florida Education Association. Please feel free to share this information as needed. 

"The prohibition against public sector employee strikes is established both in the Florida constitution and in Chapter 447.505, Florida Statutes. The Law applies the prohibition to: “public employee organizations or anyone acting in its behalf”, including organizational "officers, representatives and agents". The law also prohibits instigating or supporting a strike. 

"The definition of “strike” in Florida law is quite broad and contemplates a concerted act or omission by employees. The definition states: 

" 'Strike" means the concerted failure of employees to report for duty; the concerted absence of employees from their positions; the concerted stoppage of work by employees; the concerted submission of resignations by employees; the concerted abstinence in whole or in part by any group of employees from the full and faithful performance of the duties of employment with a public employer for the purpose of inducing, influencing, condoning, or coercing a change in the terms and conditions of employment or the rights, privileges, or obligations of public employment, or participating in a deliberate and concerted course of conduct which adversely affects the services of the public employer; the concerted failure of employees to report for work after the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement; and picketing in furtherance of a work stoppage. The term "strike" shall also mean any overt preparation, including, but not limited to, the establishment of strike funds with regard to the above-listed activities.' 

"PERC (the Public Employee Relations Commission) has applied the term 'strike' to certain concerted active even in the absence of withholding of service. In one instance, the unusually high number of requests for bus repairs was announced effective on the date of layoffs. 

"PERC ruled that such action might be a concerted activity, and thus a strike, if intended to affect the terms and conditions of employment. PERC ordered an investigation to determine if this was the case. 

"Certain other activity, such as sick outs, may also be construed to be a strike if concerted and intended to affect terms and conditions of employment. The law provides for severe sanctions against the employees and the union participating in a strike. 

"PERC and/or the employer can file an injunction to stop the strike in circuit court. These types of case are given prior as an emergency case. In summary, the organization, even if it publicly takes a stand against a strike, can still have sanctions imposed against it for up to $20,000 per calendar day or in some instances more if it is determined that the approximate cost to the public is in excess of $20,000. Unions would have to publicly ensure that no serving union official participated in the strike. 

"Perhaps more importantly, employees that participate can be terminated, may only be reemployed only on a probationary basis, have their salaries frozen for a year and most drastically, lose their retirement if found to have violated any state law against strikes. 

"So as difficult as the times are, as frustrating as it is to contend with false promises and outright assaults on public education and its employees, FEA and USEP are appealing to all of its members to exercise their right to free speech and communicate their concerns, fears and frustration to their state legislators. Tell them how misguided and harmful their uninspired punitive legislation is but be wary about engaging in any conduct which could be thought of as a strike. After all, once the dust settles, Florida schools and students will need our members, FEA and USEP even more."

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[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:55am]

    

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