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PolitiFact Florida | St. Petersburg Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact Florida rates dueling ads over 'paycheck protection' legislation

TALLAHASSEE — Legislation that would prohibit government unions from collecting dues through automated payroll deductions and require unions to get members to authorize political expenditures has produced dueling ads from the Florida Chamber of Commerce — which supports the idea — and the Florida Education Association — which opposes it.

PolitiFact Florida watched both campaign-style television spots, and decided to analyze claims from each using the Truth-O-Meter.

Neither group fared well.

At issue is something supporters call paycheck protection. Proponents say the House and Senate bills — HB 1021 and SB 830 — empower union members. Opponents say the measures are akin to union busting. The House version passed March 25, while the Senate version is pending.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce hit the airwaves March 29 with an ad supporting the concept, saying the bills are a way to stand with police, firefighters and teachers. The ad includes stock images of firefighters, police and teachers (including video of a teacher also used in an ad in Wisconsin) and suggests that they are struggling to make ends meet. In one scene, a man is hunched over a kitchen table with his head in his hands as a woman and a baby look on.

"These public servants dedicate their lives to helping others. Firefighters, police officers, teachers are facing uncertain times. So the last thing they deserve is for unions to take away their hard-earned money to play politics, sometimes without asking for approval.

"That's why the U.S. Supreme Court voted to allow workers paycheck protection. After all they do to help us, isn't it time we helped them? Paycheck protection. It's only fair."

But the chamber ad misses a critical point that differentiates Florida from other states with government-union political battles brewing — states like Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania. In those states, workers in certain jobs are required to join the union. In Florida, workers are under no such obligation.

That means that no one can be compelled to join a union in Florida, and as such, no one is required to pay union dues. The protections are written into the state Constitution.

The misleading wording is made worse by the images presented of a man hunched over a table, seemingly struggling financially. If teachers, firefighters and police don't wish to pay union dues — for any reason — they don't have to.

And as such, we rated the claim that unions "take away" members' money False.

On April 6, the Florida Education Association offered its rebuttal, featuring Leon County elementary school teacher Jamie Bellamy. The ad opens with a clip from the chamber's ad, then shows Bellamy standing in a classroom.

"Don't be fooled, this ad doesn't support teachers.

"The special interests behind it are playing politics with my paycheck. Politicians and their corporate lobbyists are trying to take away my right to spend my paycheck how I want.

"They shouldn't be telling any of us how to spend our money nor deny anyone the right to be heard. That's what this issue's really about. Politicians denying teachers the same rights as everyone else."

In this case, it's another incorrect use of the same phrase — "take away."

The House and Senate measures would prohibit public unions from utilizing payroll deductions, and would require unions to get annual authorizations from members to use their dues for political reasons. But the bills do not take away workers' rights to join a union, or to contribute money through dues.

The measures also do not prohibit union members from using their union fees for political activities.

Without the ability to use payroll deductions, unions would have to find another way to collect union dues, possibly through an automated deduction set up between the union and members' individual banks, or maybe through members writing checks.

So the House and Senate bills would change only the method unions collect dues, and how members pay them, but they would not take away members' rights altogether. We found this claim False.

The statement

Says unions "take away" hard-earned money of teachers, firefighters and police officers to play politics.

Florida Chamber of Commerce, in a campaign-style ad.

The ruling

Union membership — and as a result, the contributions that members make — is voluntary. No group takes money away from union members. We rate this claim False.

The statement

"Politicians and their corporate lobbyists are trying to take away my right to spend my paycheck how I want."

Florida Education Association, in a campaign-style ad.

The ruling

The legislation likely will make it more difficult for unions to collect dues, and more burdensome for workers to contribute to their union. But the bills do not stop union members from contributing, nor take away the right altogether. We rate this claim False.

PolitiFact Florida rates dueling ads over 'paycheck protection' legislation 04/17/11 [Last modified: Monday, April 18, 2011 7:36pm]
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