© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Florida teachers unions scramble to collect dues or risk decertification

Orange County CTA President Eric McCracken stands in front of the scrapbook wall at the union headquarters.
Danielle Prieur
Orange County CTA President Eric McCracken stands in front of the scrapbook wall at the union headquarters.

Under a new Florida law, teachers unions that don't collect dues from at least 60 percent of their members risk decertification.

Under a new Florida law, teachers unions that don't collect dues from at least 60% of their members risk decertification.

Clinton McCracken walks me through the hallways of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, where big glass display cases are full of yellowed newspaper clippings and old photos.

 Photos in the Orange County CTA display show former presidents of the union.
Danielle Prieur
Photos in the Orange County CTA display show former presidents of the union.

More newspaper clippings from the Orange County CTA archives.
Danielle Prieur
More newspaper clippings from the Orange County CTA archives.

“So when COVID hit, the office was empty and so we had some space here to take out some of our archives and went through scrapbook after scrapbook after scrapbook and found all of these things. And it's been really interesting. A lot of fights have been the same year after year after year," said McCracken.

McCracken who's the president of Orange County CTA says his union is lucky: people are typically very engaged. And it's already collected dues from over 50% of its members. That puts the union well on its way to its needed 60% by March.

 Orange County CTA President Clinton McCracken.
Danielle Prieur
Orange County CTA President Clinton McCracken.

Across the state most union dues cost about $700 a year.

McCracken said the benefit of unions is clear starting with legal representation.

“There’s just a lot that this union has in terms of benefits for teachers. We provide free professional development for example, led by expert teachers," said McCracken.

Under SB 256, which went into effect July 1st, if teachers unions don't get dues from at least 60% of their members they risk decertification. For the first time ever, those dues cannot be automatically deducted from a person’s paycheck. And each member must fill out a card expressing their consent.

At the bill signing, Gov. Ron DeSantis and other supporters of the law said the change has the possibility of saving teachers money.

“If you want to join, you can, but you write a check and you hand it over. That is gonna lead to more take-home pay for teachers. Because they’re not going to have as many deductions in their paycheck," said DeSantis.

But Michelle Deibler a fourth grade teacher at Volusia County Schools, and a union steward for Volusia United Educators, said the law hurts teachers by breaking unions.

“But our support staff, unfortunately, our numbers are very low. So we will not make our 60% for our support staff," said Deibler.

If her union doesn’t hit that 60% mark, the union would be decertified, and face a recertification election, in order to continue to bargain for employees.

Deibler says many of her teachers have started receiving flyers from the Freedom Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, encouraging people not to pay their dues.

She’s worried they’ll fund a competitor like they already have in Miami Dade.

Thomas Bugos, president of Seminole Education Association, said his union could be in the same boat.

 Seminole Education Association President Thomas Bugos.
Danielle Prieur
Seminole Education Association President Thomas Bugos.

“Historically, Seminole Education Association has hovered around 50 to 60%. So it's not unlikely that we will reach it, it's just a matter of getting the word out of how to do it," said Bugos.

They’ve moved to an electronic system for collecting dues. And he questioned why the new law doesn’t apply to unions representing first responders.

“There is nothing against the police unions or the fire or any of the first responders. But teachers also play an important role in the community. And it’s the teachers that are the frontline to what’s going to happen in the future of this community," said Bugos.

Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar, said without teachers unions there to protect them, more teachers will leave the profession. And there’s already a nationwide and statewide teacher shortage.

“If you're not treated as a professional you ain’t staying, and that's what we're seeing and that's what we're fighting against."
Andrew Spar

By last count, the FEA estimates the state started the school year with a shortage of 7,000 teachers. The Florida Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Copyright 2023 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Danielle Prieur
WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.