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Union battles brew in Florida Legislature

Two bills would change the way union members pay their dues.
Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers his State of the State address in the House chamber at the Capitol in Tallahassee during Opening Day of the Florida Legislature on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers his State of the State address in the House chamber at the Capitol in Tallahassee during Opening Day of the Florida Legislature on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Mar. 8
Updated Mar. 8

TALLAHASSEE — Debates are building in the Florida Legislature about union dues paid by teachers, law-enforcement officers and other public employees.

A Republican-dominated House panel Monday approved two measures that are being fiercely opposed by Democrats and labor unions, including a proposal that also has gained early support in the Senate.

That proposal (HB 947), sponsored by Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, would place new requirements on the dues-deduction process, such as adding a step in which government employers would have to confirm with workers that they want dues taken out of their pay before the deductions could start. Currently, union bargaining agents can submit written requests to begin deductions.

Also, the bill would require deductions to be reauthorized when new collective bargaining agreements are reached or after three years, whichever happens first.

Plakon told the House Government Operations Subcommittee, which approved the bill in 12-6 party-line vote, that the changes would help balance Florida’s constitutional right to collectively bargain and the constitutional right to work. He pointed to “social pressure” that can be placed on workers to join unions.

But Democrats and union representatives blasted the bill, saying it is not necessary and would hurt workers. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said it is moving forward because lawmakers “want to make it hard for unions to get funded.”

“This is a union-busting bill,” Smith said. “It’s very overt. It’s very obvious.”

The Senate version of the bill (SB 78), filed by Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, has been approved by two committees in party-line votes and is pending in the Rules Committee. If it clears the Rules Committee, it would be ready for consideration by the full Senate.

The other bill (HB 835) approved by the House panel would affect unions representing public-school teachers and faculty members at state colleges and universities.

The most-contentious part of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, would stop the process of school districts deducting union dues from teachers’ paychecks. Teachers would pay dues directly to unions.

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By Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida. Assignment manager Tom Urban contributed to this story.