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The Florida Roundup
The Florida Roundup is a live, weekly call-in show with a distinct focus on the issues affecting Floridians. Each Friday at noon, listeners can engage in the conversation with journalists, newsmakers and other Floridians about change, policy and the future of our lives in the sunshine state.Join our host, WLRN’s Tom Hudson, broadcasting from Miami.

Here's the state of Florida's public employee unions

Man in glasses listening during a committee hearing
Florida House of Representatives
Rep. Dean Black sponsored the measure in the Florida House. He said he law doesn’t decertify unions or deny the right for public employee unions to collectively bargain.

Ever since the passage of a union law in 2023, tens of thousands of public employees have lost their bargaining rights.

In 2023, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law banning automatic payroll deductions for public employee union dues. It also requires 60% of public sector union members to pay their dues, or else the union would have to be recertified as a bargaining agent.

Since then, a WLRN investigation shows tens of thousands of public employees have lost their bargaining rights. In fact, four Association of Federal State County and Municipal Employees bargaining units — which represent more than 42,000 state employees — have been decertified.

Law enforcement, firefighter and correctional officer unions are exempt from the law.

Rep. Dean Black sponsored the measure in the Florida House last year. He spoke Friday with Tom Hudson on The Florida Roundup about why, according to him, the law doesn’t decertify unions or deny the right for public employee unions to collectively bargain.

“What happens under the bill that we passed last year is if you failed to meet the required membership levels, then you have to petition for recertification,” Black said. “And then in that process, what that means is, you can stand for election, and you can be nominated to be reelected as the bargaining agent. Someone else, some other union could also come in and offer the workers a choice. And at that point, the workers have a choice to choose the union they had, a different union, or they can choose to have no union at all.”

He also touched on why certain public employee unions are treated differently under the law. In the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, for instance, only 16% of law enforcement officers paid union dues in 2023. Yet the union is under no threat of decertification.

“We treat them differently for purposes of retirement, and all manner of things. And so they are ordinarily treated as an entirely separate entity,” Black said.

“If the union wants to exercise rights that it has under the law to engage in politics, then they can do that. But the workers ought to know how their money is being spent. ”
Rep. Dean Black

The representative mentioned a bill of his in the state legislature — House Bill 1471 — would expand some exceptions for public employees, including 911 operators or paramedics.

Teachers’ unions are among the most affected by the 2023 law, according to the WLRN investigation. Florida’s biggest teachers’ union, United Teachers of Dade, is currently trying to keep its contract after just over 56% of its members paid their dues last year.

Black noted the law wasn’t payback against teachers’ unions, which have opposed Gov. DeSantis’ policies in the past.

“If the union wants to exercise rights that it has under the law to engage in politics, then they can do that. But the workers ought to know how their money is being spent. They should know what their dues cost and exactly what's being done with that money. And then the workers themselves can decide whether or not that represents a good value to them and whether or not they like what that union is doing,” he said.

But Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, condemned the law, saying the reason behind it was clear.

“The governor and wealthy anti-public school interests do not want teachers, education staff professionals, or professors to be able to come together and speak up for our public schools, our colleges and universities, or the majority of students who attend and learn there,” Spar said.

Spar said lawmakers should focus on other issues affecting educators.

“They must deal with the pervasive teacher and staff shortage, and they need to pay teachers fairly, ensure educators and staff have the resources to do their jobs, and they need to cement opportunities for educators to access affordable health care or housing," Spar said. "Educators must have the ability to retire with dignity and respect so they can continue to be those valued members of our community.”

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