1. News
  2. /
  3. Gradebook

Teacher unions suffer setback as judge sides with state on membership law

Judge Angela Dempsey sides with state in backing law that requires unions to be recertified if dues paying members drop below 50 percent.
Meaghan Leto, a speech therapist from Twin Lakes Elementary, protests with Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association outside of the school board building in Tampa in December 2017. A 2018 state law requires teacher unions to recertify if the share of membership drops below 50 percent who pay. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Aug. 12

A Leon County circuit judge has rejected arguments by teacher unions that a controversial 2018 education law violates collective-bargaining rights and improperly singles out teachers among public employees.

Judge Angela Dempsey on Friday issued an eight-page decision siding with the state’s arguments on the constitutionality of the law, which can require teacher unions to be recertified to represent employees. Such recertification is required if fewer than 50 percent of the employees eligible for representation are dues-paying members.

The Florida Education Association, unions in several counties and individual teachers filed the lawsuit in July 2018 challenging the constitutionality of the law. In part, they argued that the new requirement violated collective-bargaining rights and equal-protection rights as the requirements did not apply to other public-sector unions.

RELATED STORY: Republicans celebrate passage of landmark education bill despite outcry from teachers’ unions

But Dempsey wrote that the law did not violate collective-bargaining rights and pointed to the state’s teacher shortage as a reason for treating teachers different than other employees. She wrote that the state “recognizes the need for further accommodations when it comes to public school teachers.”

“Here, the goal of the statute is to afford public-school teachers greater control over the collective bargaining where the union dues-paying members of a bargaining unit comprise less than 50 percent of the teachers,” Dempsey wrote. “The means for reaching that goal is the requirement that the union representatives must furnish the requisite data per the statute’s provisions. The provisions themselves do not oust the union from its representative position, but instead trigger the opportunity for the employees to reconsider whether to alter the status of their representation.”

The union recertification issue was included in a massive education law (HB 7055) that the Republican-dominated Legislature passed in 2018. The lawsuit filed by the unions also addressed other constitutional issues, including whether the legislation violated a requirement that laws address single subjects.

RELATED STORY: Ron DeSantis and GOP poised to redefine Florida public education

Dempsey’s ruling addressed only the collective-bargaining and equal-protection arguments and dealt with a motion by the unions and teachers for summary judgment on those issues.

In the motion, attorneys for the unions and teachers wrote that the recertification requirement in the law “imposes numerous burdens upon instructional employees, but no other category of public employees.” If required to go through the recertification process, a union would be required by the law to get statements of support from 30 percent of the bargaining unit and then hold an election.

“If it fails to earn a favorable vote of 50 percent of the voting employees, it faces decertification,” the motion for summary judgment said. “This will leave the employees of the unit with no collective bargaining representative. Even if the organization is not decertified, the employees in the bargaining unit are burdened by their chosen representative having to redirect its resources from collective bargaining activities in order to ensure it meets a certain membership level every year. These are significant burdens upon plaintiffs’ right to effective collective bargaining.”

RELATED STORY: It’s been a tough few years for Florida teachers. Will a new union leader shake things up?

But Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office, defending the law for the state, argued in a document last month that the “goal of the statute is clearly to afford public-school teachers better protection against labor unions that have come to represent less than 50 percent of the teachers.”

“The provisions themselves do not oust the union from its position, but instead trigger the opportunity for the employees — the majority of whom are not dues-paying members — to reconsider whether to alter the status of their representation, including the possibility of deciding to go forward without representation, as is their right,” the document said.


  1. Chanell Newell, a reading teacher at Woodson K-8 School, is a finalist for Hillsborough Teacher of the Year. HCPS  |  HCPS
    The winners will be announced on Jan. 23.
  2. A school bus travels the early morning streets of Pasco County on the way to the first day of classes in 2017.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  3. Transgender student Drew Adams speaks with reporters outside of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Adam's fight over school restrooms came before a federal appeals court Thursday, setting the stage for a groundbreaking ruling. Adams, who has since graduated from Nease High in Ponte Vedra, Fla., won a lower court ruling last year ordering the St. Johns County school district to allow him to use the boys' restroom. The district has since appealed. RON HARRIS  |  AP
    The closely watched case of Drew Adams, once a high school student in Florida, is heard by a three-judge panel in Atlanta.
  4. Representatives from the United School Employees of Pasco, on the left, present their latest pay request to the district's bargaining team during talks on Oct. 24, 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff
    Teachers have yet to reach a deal on their contract.
  5. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. It has met just once more since then. The Florida Channel
    Lawmakers have yet to set an aggressive agenda beyond talk of teacher pay as the 2020 legislative session nears.
  6. FILE - In a Monday, Dec. 11, 2017 file photo, transgender teen Drew Adams, left, leaves the U. S. Courthouse with his mother Erica Adams Kasper after the first day of his trial about bathroom rights at Nease High School, in Jacksonville, Fla. The transgender student's fight over school bathrooms comes before a federal appeals court Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, setting the stage for a groundbreaking ruling. Drew Adams, who has since graduated from Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, won a lower court ruling in 2018 ordering the St. Johns County school district to allow him to use the boys' restroom. (Will Dickey/The Florida Times-Union via AP, File) WILL DICKEY  |  AP
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  7. A bird's-eye view of USF St. Petersburg, which this week announced a new member of the Campus Board. She is Melissa Seixas, a Duke Energy executive who earned her master's degree at USF.
    News and notes about K-12 schools and colleges in Pinellas County.
  8. An LGBTQ Pride march participant walks under a large rainbow flag in New York earlier this year. School Board policy regarding LGBTQ students has been a frequent topic of discussion in recent months in Pasco County. CRAIG RUTTLE  |  AP
    The discourse is more civil and respectful, two weeks after a session that many deemed hate-filled and vile.
  9. The Florida Legislature so far has has left Gov. Ron DeSantis to set most education policy priorities for 2020.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  10. "Miss Virginia," a film about school choice, will be screened at the Tampa Theatre on Dec. 10.
    “Miss Virginia” will be playing at the Tampa Theater on Tuesday.