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Florida House Passes HB1, Called An Opt Out Measure By Supporters, 'Union Busting' By Opponents

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Ryan Dailey
/
WFSU-FM

The Florida House has passed a bill requiring public employees who are part of a union receive a form to renew their membership annually. Proponents say the measure is a way to make opting out easy for employees. Opponents, meanwhile, call it “union busting.”

Protestors outside the House chambers held signs, chanting “don’t kill us with red tape,” as lawmakers filed in to take a vote on the issue.

Republican Representative James Grant’s bill presents public sector employees with a yearly renewal form that advises employees they don’t have to be in a union. Proponents of the measure characterize it as a way to allow employees to opt out of membership.

Grant was intentionally brief in introducing the bill on the floor, and waived closing remarks.

“Thank you Mr. Speaker, this is the human resources bill we discussed yesterday,” Grant said, tongue-in-cheek, getting some laughs in the chambers.

Under Grant’s proposal, the card presented to employees to renew their union membership would advise employees that union membership, and paying dues to the union, is voluntary. The bill also prevents unions from asking why employees want to leave if they should decide not to renew their membership.

Public sector employees and those generally opposed to what they see as anti-union legislation made a last-second plea to representatives. Fernando Rendone came to show support, even though he’s in the private sector:

“Assistant business manager with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 606, Orlando,” Rendone explained.

Even though the bill doesn’t directly affect him, Rendone says anything that affects unions, affects labor. He feels that’s worth speaking out against.

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Credit Ryan Dailey / WFSU-FM
Protesters opposing HB1, which supporters say is a measure to allow public employees to opt out of unions, but opponents call "union busting," hold signs and chant ahead of a House vote that saw the measure pass.

“Unions built the middle class here in America. Back in the 50’s, when union membership was at an all-time high, the standard of living for working class families was just phenomenal,” Rendone told WFSU. “And, as the years have gone by, and this assault on working families and unions, you’ve seen a direct correlation between more legislation affecting workers, and the decline of the middle class.”

Florida’s AFL-CIO, which represents unions in the state, opposes the bill. Its director of politics and policy, Rich Templin, is accusing the legislature of trying to make it harder for public employees to unionize.

“So, every year, every two years, the legislature rolls out a bill seeking to destroy the ability for public sector workers to organize. But they don’t do it directly in an intellectually honest way, they do it through thousands of little paper cuts,” Templin said just before the House convened for its floor session.

Templin says one piece of the bill represents a first when it comes to organizing.

“It actually would force the employer to verify that signature – this would be the first time in history that employers had a say in the organizing process,” Templin said.

That provision of the bill is something Democratic Rep. Fentrice Driskell raised as a concern.

“One of the concerns that I have is potential intimidation,” Driskell told fellow House members. “Could you imagine to have to go to your employer, and have to have your employer personally verify that you’ve signed an authorization for a deduction of dues – may create an environment where that type of intimidation can occur?”

Some House Dems argued the bill is flat out unnecessary, like Rep. Tina Polsky.

“There were teachers, firefighters, policemen, all the people we say we care so much about, all saying that this bill was rather insulting to them. Because they know how to revoke their membership. They know how to sign up for membership and dues,” Polsky said.

The bill ultimately passed on a 63-52 vote, not on party lines, and has been sent to the Senate. Some of those down votes came from House Republicans like Vance Aloupis, Chip Lamarca and Rene Plasencia.