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Teachers' Unions Threatened By Florida House Bill

MGN Online

House Bill 7055 has been a lightning rod for controversy. The measure is known for a move to offer bullied students scholarships for private or charter schools. But, tucked away in the bill’s 200 pages, one provision threatens teachers’ unions with decertification.

Karla Hernandez-Mats is the President of the United Teachers of Dade. A teachers’ union in South Florida.

“Last year, when we got less than one percent of new money in Miami-Dade County, we were really able to make almost miracles. I don’t want to be religious and say multiplying the bread and the fish, but we certainly made a lot out of nothing,” Mats says.

She says she’s had first-hand experience with what a teachers’ union is able to accomplish on the ground floor.  

“This is despite all the resources that we’re losing in our classrooms. We see that our state legislature is the same legislature who had a big push on over testing our children, I mean it turned into a testing regime, and we had to fight back against that. We’ve we see that our schools are losing title one money, I mean this is for under privileged kids, for communities that have low social economy status,” Mats says.

Mats is one of the many unionized teachers in Florida who have been fighting House Bill 7055.

Under the bill, unions must maintain 50 percent membership among the total number of teachers eligible to join. If membership dips below the 50 percent mark, the union can be decertified.

The Provision largely mirrors language in Scott Plakon’s (R-Longwood) House Bill 25, which has passed in the House, but is not moving in the Senate.

“First, it’s about transparency, in that we’ll be asking public sector unions to report how many of their members pay dues, along with a report that they file each year, and that’s already being done. Second, it’s about democracy as we’ll be asking them that at least half their members are dues paying. Third, it’s about accountability, in that we’ll hold union officials accountable to their members in that they in some cases have to be more responsible to their members, just like we have to do in this room,” Plakon says.  

Joanne McCall, President of the Florida Education Association, calls the move another sign of favoritism towards private and charter schools. She says, by weakening the teachers’ union, legislators can siphon off money from public schools without opposition.

“For far too long, this legislature, for more than a decade, has done nothing but siphon off money from public schools. And send it to unregulated, unaccounted for, for profit charters and private schools. And we are the loudest ones speaking out about it. And so this is a clear line in the sand for the speaker, and us. He’s clearly trying to get at the FEA to make us quiet,” McCall says.

McCall says Florida’s right to work status makes membership a tricky issue. States up North have workers pay a fair share fee. Meaning, whether or not they are in a union, everyone must chip in. Right to work states, like Florida, do not require union membership, or fees.  Only members pay dues. However, if the union bargains for a contract, every employee in the state benefits from it. Member or not. McCall says this does not create an incentive to join.

“We have the right to have a union, but nobody is compelled to be part of the union. So, we have a due structure in place, and so some people don’t want to pay dues. But, the difference between a fair share and a right to work place is, when we negotiate a contract in this state, everybody is under that contract, but we don’t represent everybody,” McCall says.