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Miami-Dade teachers' union faces potential decertification

 United Teachers of Dade faces a potential decertification under a new state law as it sends a snapshot of its numbers to the State of Florida.
Daniel Rivero
United Teachers of Dade faces a potential decertification under a new state law as it sends a snapshot of its numbers to the State of Florida.

United Teachers of Dade did not reach the 60% threshold of dues-paying members required by a contentious new state law. It could have a major impact on one of the largest unions in Florida, and the single largest employer in Miami-Dade County.

The largest teacher’s union in Florida is facing the prospect of being decertified by the state, union officials announced on Thursday night.

As of last week, only 58.4% of United Teachers of Dade members were paying dues to the union, short of the 60% required by most public sector unions under a new state law.

On Friday, the union was set to send a snapshot of membership to the Public Employee Relations Commission, or PERC, the state agency that regulates public employee unions.

The potential decertification could have a major impact on one of the largest unions in Florida, and on Miami-Dade public school system employees. The school system is the largest employer of any kind in Miami-Dade County.

A number of employees have been hired and left the job since last week’s snapshot, union president Karla Hernandez-Mats said at a press conference, and more members have signed up to pay dues. The union hopes that somehow the numbers will work in its favor to stay active.

“Last year we were at 51%, and last week we were at 58.4% in the third largest school district in the United States,” said Hernandez-Mats. “People want to have their rights, people want to have wages, benefits, and a union that fights for them. And unfortunately we’re seeing anti-worker legislation.”

READ MORE: DeSantis signs off on bill, restricting teacher union dues

In recent months, public sector unions across the state have been all-hands-on-board to try to get their numbers up to comply with the new law. The work has been complicated by a separate provision in the law, banning public sector unions from automatically deducting union dues from paychecks.

Essentially, it is a double-whammy: the state created a new process for paying dues while simultaneously requiring more people to pay dues.

The new law applies to all public sector unions in Florida, with the exception of police, firefighter and correctional officer unions.

Hernandez-Mats said if the union does not hit the 60% threshold, it would trigger a process of recertification, a fight to keep the union alive. A separate vote would have to be held.

“If we don't hit our numbers we have to show that 30% of our bargaining unit wants a union to represent them — want United Teachers of Dade to represent them. And we will be collecting a show of interest cards and we will have to have a certification campaign, which we have never had in the history of our union,” she said.

The union was founded in 1974.

Questions over the decertification process

The exact nature of how the state could go about the decertification process under the new law remains unclear. The “Frequently Asked Questions” section of the PERC website says a new vote to recertify the union would have to be submitted within a month, but exact details are sparse.

“PERC has been so ambiguous with decisions, with rule-making, with transparency in the process. We're not sure what's going to happen,” said Hernandez-Mats.

A request for comment about transparency and the decertification process from PERC was not immediately returned.

Despite the potentially grim news for the union, Hernandez-Mats said the amount of union members has greatly expanded over the last few months, and she sees hope in the future.

"The careers of our dedicated education workforce and the future of public education depend on our resilience and our unity."
Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade

"Our collective strength will be the defense against these attacks. And through our solidarity, we shall emerge victorious," she said. "The careers of our dedicated education workforce and the future of public education depend on our resilience and our unity."

The new law builds upon the foundation of a similar law that passed in 2019, which required only teacher’s unions to have 50% of members paying dues in order to keep certification. Following that law, the teacher’s union in Jefferson County, in north Florida, was decertified and disbanded.

Last year, the Santa Rosa County teacher’s union reported that only 36% of members were paying dues. The lackluster numbers forced members to start a recertification process with the bargaining unit. When votes were counted, 92% of members voted in favor of keeping the union alive; now they will have to meet the 60% threshold to stay active, or the cycle of certification and decertification will continue.

Despite less than 60% of members paying dues as of last week, United Teachers of Dade has proved to be popular. A contract between the school district and union members was ratified earlier this year with 91% of members voting in favor.

Florida is one of few states that has the right to join a union enshrined in the state constitution, alongside New York, Missouri and Illinois.

Teachers treated differently to police and firefighters

The DeSantis administration and Republicans in the state legislature have simultaneously said the new law was created in order to “protect” public workers’ paychecks, while defending the decision to omit police and firefighter unions from those same protections.

Blaise Ingoglia, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and the sponsor of the bill in the Florida Senate, said in March that he “could not in good conscience” apply the same provisions to police and firefighter unions.

“I just cannot and they will not do that,” said Ingoglia. "They are they going out every morning or every time they leave the door and they don't know if they're coming home. They are literally putting their lives on the line for us.”

In a press conference held when he signed the bill into law in May, Gov. DeSantis expressed an ideological opposition to allowing teachers in particular from automatically deducting union dues from their paychecks.

“That’s not appropriate to have automatic deductions,” said DeSantis. “If you want to do it, you can write a check and hand it to them. What this does is relieve the pressure off the individual teacher or employee.”

Police and firefighter unions represent some of the Republican party’s most vocal supporters in Florida. The president of United Teachers of Dade, on the other hand, ran against Governor DeSantis as a Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor last year.

If the union’s right to collective bargaining is lost, Hernandez-Mats said it will have a “detrimental” effect for public education in South Florida.

“I believe there will be a mass exodus of teachers who are holding on by a thin thread, staying in the fight and loving and being here in our classrooms because they care so much of our students,” said the union leader. “But they've had enough. And educators are tired and they're tired of the political attacks.”

Copyright 2023 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Daniel Rivero is a reporter and producer for WLRN, covering Latino and criminal justice issues. Before joining the team, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion.
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