Teacher representation bill stirrs up accusations of union busting

Feb 21, 2012

Lawmakers are considering a proposal that would let certain groups represent teachers without registering as a teacher’s union as long as they don’t participate in collective bargaining.  Some say the move would give teachers more options, but Regan McCarthy reports others call it union busting.

Representative Jeff Brandes says his bill will protect teachers and give them more options for legal representation.

“Union membership has been dropping since the 50s. And we are today in a world where many teachers want to be in a profession. Want to have protection, but don’t want to have to join a collective bargaining organization in order to have that protection. They want choice, they want options. They can join Penn, they can get a writer on their homeowner’s insurance they can do a lot of different things to give them those options, but we should not be limiting those options, we should be encouraging those options.”

The Professional Educators Network of Florida, or PEN, is non-union teacher organization that doesn’t participate in collective bargaining, but wants to offer teachers legal representation. But Representative Martin Kiar, a Democrat from Davie, says he doesn’t think it’s fair for an organization that does everything except collective bargaining to be treated differently.

“What They don’t want to be subjected to the checks and balances to make sure that they’re acting fairly. They don’t want to be subjected to chapter 447 to make sure that there’s another check to ensure that they’re doing what’s right for our teachers and our children. They don’t want to be under this. They don’t want that.”

PEN officials argue the group is offering teachers services they want. The organization doesn’t want to be a union, and says because it doesn’t participate in collective bargaining, it shouldn’t have to register as one. Representative Dwight Bullard, a Democrat from Miami, says he doesn’t have a problem with competition between unions, but he says  the measure creates a gray area. Bullard says if something walks like a duck, it might just be one.

“If any of us were walking around and we saw a feathered animal with a beak, with fins, that can swim and can fly we would automatically assume it was a duck. But in this case we’re ignoring all these facts. If you want to be a competing interest, it’s not to say that there can’t be another employee organization that comes to the table here in Florida, but if that’s what you want to do then do it.”

But Representative Erik Fresen, a Republican from Miami, disagrees with that assessment.

“The distinct characteristic that makes up a union is their ability and their exercising in the collective bargaining process. And if you don’t do that, you may do a lot of similar things – to go kind of on your analogy, I could walk, I could swim and if I wanted to make people laugh I could quack, but I’m not a duck. So even though I can have a lot of similar characteristics as one, I ultimately don’t have the distinct characteristic that makes me a duck – being a duck.”

The measure passed through the House Education Committee. Next it moves to the House floor. Meanwhile, a measure with similar provisions passed through the Senate Education Pre K-12 Committee. It has two more committee stops to go.