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Teachers unions challenge changes to Florida’s public union laws

Unions representing law enforcement officers and firefighters are exempt from the new requirements in a bill signed by Governor Ron DeSantis Tuesday.

(CN) — Three teachers unions in Florida claim in a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday that changes to the state’s public union laws discriminate against the governor’s opponents.

The lawsuit comes on the same day Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 256, which imposes new requirements on public sector labor unions in the state, including those representing educators, health care workers, local and state government employees, and those involved in transit, sanitation, and other public works. 

The new requirements, however, do not apply to unions representing law enforcement, firefighters and correctional officers.

“In a bid to punish the ‘school unions’ and other public employee unions who have opposed him ('disfavored unions'), Governor DeSantis pushed for ‘unprecedented’ changes to Florida’s collective bargaining law to harm disfavored unions while exempting those unions representing law enforcement, corrections, and firefighter employees who have supported him ('favored unions'),” the lawsuit states.

DeSantis has been endorsed by multiple state law enforcement unions including the Fraternal Order of Police, the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association Union, and the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

The Alachua County Education Association, the United Faculty of Florida and the Florida Education Association are the plaintiffs in the case, which they filed against members of Florida's Public Employees Relations Commission. The lawsuit argues that the bill not only violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, but “is an extension of Governor DeSantis’s broader campaign against public educators and public education itself.”

“In advancing his anti-education campaign, Governor DeSantis has complained of the ‘excessive influence’ of school unions — while expressing no such concerns for the influence of public unions he favors and who have politically supported him,” the lawsuit, submitted by Tallahassee-based attorney Martin Powell, states.

The governor has become notorious for his legislative actions regarding education in Florida, including what he branded as the “Stop WOKE Act,” which prohibits instruction on certain race related concepts, his rejection of the College Board’s Advanced Placement course in African-American Studies, and the a bill referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in all grades.

Under the new provisions outlined in the bill the governor signed Tuesday, any public employee who desires to become a member of a non-exempted union must now sign a state mandated membership authorization form that includes the message: “The State of Florida is a right-to-work state. Membership or nonmembership in a labor union is not required as a condition of employment, and union membership and payment of union dues and assessments are voluntary. Each person has the right to join and pay dues to a labor union or to refrain from joining and paying dues to a labor union. No employee may be discriminated against in any manner for joining and financially supporting a labor union or for refusing to join or financially support a labor union.”

The teacher unions argue that this enforcement burdens their freedom of speech by forcing them to use “a government prescribed form containing a prominent, inaccurate, government-drafted ideological statement” that their members do not agree with.

These forms must also include the names of the union’s five highest compensated employees and the total amount of payments they’ve received. 

“There is no justification for requiring this information on membership applications, nor for requiring it to be provided by disfavored unions but not by unions favored by Governor DeSantis,” the lawsuit states.

The bill further bans automatic deduction of dues from union members’ paycheck which the groups argue violates existing contract laws and will cause them to lose revenue by having to implement more costly and less efficient alternative methods for collecting dues.

While K-12 educator unions were previously required to petition for recertification if less than 50% of their annual employees were dues-paying members, the amended bill changes that amount to 60%. It also requires those unions to provide verification of their financial data by an independent certified public accountant in their annual registration statements.

The administrative burdens and financial costs imposed by this new requirement will be particularly damaging to small local unions in rural areas that have limited revenues, the lawsuit argues.

Commissioners of the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Categories / Education, Employment, Government, Law

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