Today's news -- December 6, 2017





Effort to decertify public employee unions back again *

Public employees could see their unions put out of business if they don’t maintain at least a 50 percent membership. Unions say the idea has more to do with politics than good government. It is unions, more often than not, that bring hundreds of people to the State Capitol to rally against what they consider bad public policy. And it's Democrats, more often than not, who get union endorsements. Now, a GOP sponsored bill would require at least half of the people working in a unit represented by a union actually be union members. Rep. Scott Plakon of Altamonte Springs stated, “One person could claim to represent ten thousand, and again, I don’t think that’s right.” Tallulah Thomas, a behavioral specialist for the Florida State Hospital claimed, “We do not do this job to become rich or famous. We do this because we believe in the work.” Not included in the 50 percent membership requirement are public safety agencies. Public safety unions are more likely to be bipartisan in their political endorsements. Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall pulled no punches when we asked if the bill was union busting. McCall said, “This is definitely political. This is about silencing a voice. We have been politically active. We speak up. We speak out.” Its sponsor, though, says it’s just good public policy. When Plakon was asked if his intent was to “bust unions”, he responded, “You know they said that on the House floor last year. And again, this is about transparency, democracy and accountability.” The legislation is expected to clear the House early in the legislative session. Its future in the Senate is uncertain.

A fight over public employee labor unions is brewing in the Legislature. Critics are decrying a bill they say is aimed at union-busting, while the measure’s sponsor claims it’s meant to ensure unions are doing their jobs. The proposal says if fewer than half of eligible members pay public employee union dues that union could be forced to recertify with the state or risk losing its standing all together.  Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, says his bill is to make sure unions are being accountable to their members. “I just don’t think it’s right for a small percent, a few percent of leaders of a union to claim to represent 97 percent," he says. Public employee unions would have to include the number of employees eligible for representation and the number of those who are represented-both paying and non-paying, in their annual reports.  Firefighter, law enforcement and correctional unions are exempt, which critics say could pit unions against each other. The measure has repeatedly cleared the House, but has failed in the Senate in years past. Florida’s public employee unions are blasting the measure. Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boca Raton, says he expects the measure to ultimately fail as it has in years past. “All I have to say to the hardworking men and women who belong to the unions. … I would not fear. I would not fear when this bill passes this committee…I would not fear when it passes the house. This has a long way to go. Through the Legislature and ultimately to the courts.” Plakon’s bill requires public unions to include the number of dues paying and non-dues paying members in their annual reports, along with how many people are eligible for representation. If the number of non-dues paying members is below fifty percent, the union would have to re-certify with the state or risk being dissolved.

Republican legislation that could dramatically reduce the ranks of unionized teachers in Florida passed a key state House committee Tuesday. The vote clears the way for a floor vote when the 2018 legislative session begins next month. The measure is being fast-tracked by House leaders. While most bills must pass multiple committees before becoming eligible for floor votes, HB 25 has been assigned to just one panel: the Government Accountability Committee. The committee's 14-9 vote followed the bill's sole public hearing. The legislation would enhance the state's ability to dissolve local teacher unions that haven't signed up at least 50 percent of local teachers as members. Supporters contend a union shouldn't be allowed to represent the interests of rank-and-file teachers if a majority of the teacher population doesn't belong to the union. With many local unions currently failing to meet that threshold, thousands of teachers could be left without union representation. Weakening the political sway of the unions' statewide umbrella organization, the Florida Education Association, has been a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O'Lakes). "The teachers' union is fixated on halting innovation and competition in education," Corcoran told his chamber at his swearing-in ceremony last year. "They are literally trying to destroy the lives of a hundred thousand children." Increased dissolution of local unions could wreak havoc on teachers' professional lives, critics warn. Without collective bargaining negotiations between union representatives and district administrators, the fiscal and policy contours of teacher contracts would largely be decided by bureaucrats. "This is politics at its best," said Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall. "We should want those of us that are with the students on a regular basis and the administration that's handling the money, we should make the decisions that matter to our students. It shouldn't be folks here (in the Legislature)." But House Republicans take issue with that notion, arguing they were elected to make decisions regarding education policy. And the feeling of contempt union officials have for them is, it seems, mutual. "It is downright evil," Corcoran has said of the FEA's agenda.

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