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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Unions mount mild but steady protest against stream of anti-union bills



IMG_5129_2 As Republican lawmakers continue a steady drip of legislation aimed at tightening the rules for public employee unions in Florida, the unions did what they are known for Monday: they organized.

First, the Florida Education Association trotted out its top legal scholar, Ron Meyer, to explain to reporters in a series of conference calls how Florida law can’t be compared to Wisconsin.

(Photo union members Jayne Walker and Scott Whittle outside Senate committee)

The series of bills are part of a national agenda intended to weaken unions and are "aimed at side-stepping a very carefully crafted bargaining process in this state,'' Meyer said. Teachers, for one, won't be converging on the Capitol as in other states because state law prohibits them from any engaging in political activity during work hours. If they violate the law, it could cost them their pensions, their jobs and create fines against their unions.

But, he warned, "What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  I think you’re going to see an awakening of the masses that are going to allow them to make their voices heard to bring forth these issues in a louder or clearer way.''

Then, as the Senate Community Affairs Committee was slated to take up a bill that would prevent unions from using payroll deductions to collect union dues and would make it harder for them to use proceeds from dues for political activity, about two dozen protestors stood outside the hearing room with bright blue masking tape over their mouths. Their goal: to protest what they said was the "gag bill's" attempt to silence their political voice.

“In Tallahassee, politicians shouldn’t try to tell me how to spend my money. It is my paycheck my choice,” said Jayne Walker, a supervisor of a city bus company from Central Florida and dues paying member of the Amalgamated Transit Workers union.

“If this bill passes, the Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida and all the other big businesses, special interests, will be the only voices in Florida politics. They have the right form assocociations, to pool their resources and participate in politics, and so should I and my fellow coworkers.”

Scott Whittle, a high school teacher from Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, called the measure “revenge” by its sponsor, Sen. John Thrasher, who sponsored the bill last year to eliminate teacher tenure and impose strict new rules on performance pay.

“He tried ramrod this down the taxpayers throats," Whittle said of the bill which was vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. “He wants to get back at the people, that’s why he wants no union involvement, no taxpayer money, no political activity.”

The committee ran out of time to listen to testimony from workers who had traveled to town to speak to the bill, but Sen. Mike Bennett, a Bradenton Republican and committee chairman, promised to give the measure a hearing at the next meeting next week.

Thrasher called the bill a simple measure intended to get the state out of the business of serving as the middle man in the dues collection process for union members.

“The taxpayers of the State of Florida are basically saying let’s get out of the business of collecting dues for union members,’’ he said after the meeting adjourned. “Let the unions do it themselves. If they’re doing such a great job with their members, I think they’ll do fine.”

Thrasher denied that the bill is intended to silence the unions by prohibiting payroll deductions for political activity. “What’s wrong with a state worker going to their bank or credit union and saying please deduct from my pay,’’ he said.

“My intent clearly is the protect the taxpayer of the state of Florida,’’ he said. “I don’t think they want to be in the business of collecting union dues.”

But Jeff McAdams, a Gainesville police officer and president of the Gainesville Fraternal Order of Police, called it a “union-busting bill” that “cuts the throats of police officers that are serving the public.”

“When an officer uses force against someone, whether it’s legitimate or not, he is automatically investigated,’’ he said, “so the dues deduction allows them to have have their defense paid for.’’

McAdams said it’s the clear legislators are targeting workers who voluntarily turn over a portion of their salaries to pay their dues to political activities and lobbying while taxpayers foot the bill for cities and counties to have lobbyists and they are not being told to stop.

“It’s difficult enough doing the job we do on the street and we thought the legislature had our backs,’’ he said. “We find out that they don’t.” 


[Last modified: Monday, March 7, 2011 7:21pm]


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