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Proposal to stop union payroll deductions clears House

Rep. Chris Dorworth (R)

By James Call


Tallahassee, FL – What labor advocates are calling a union-busting bill has cleared the Republican-controlled Florida House. The measure would end automatic payroll deduction of union dues for government employees and require public employee unions to get written permission from members before their dues could be used for political contributions. James Call reports, the vote came nearly two hours after floor debate.

Early in the debate, Palm Beach Representative Jeff Clemons expressed from the floor what many Democrats have said in the Capitol Hallways. Clemons told members every morning when he shows up to work in the Legislature he asks his staff, to whom are we going to stick it today.

"We've stuck it to the unemployed already. We've stuck it to teachers. We're sticking it to public employees; women and now we're sticking it to unions."

Clemons spoke in opposition to a proposal to prohibit government agencies from deducting union dues from paychecks. Labor spokes people describe the measure as devastating. Democrats say it is part of a politically motivated attack on working people.

"Paycheck protection would require disclosure to union members all expenditures for political purposes and would require member's annual authorization to spend their dues on political activities."

Republican Representative Rich Workman said the critics are overreacting.

"I don't think this is crazy. This is not far out. This says we have taken your money. You have given us your money and here is how we're going to spend it do you agree? Yes or no. If the answer is no the union is not authorized to spend the money on that activity."

Unions and their supporters see House Bill 1021 as part of a series of proposals designed to weaken organized labor. In addition to prohibiting government agencies from deducting union dues from paychecks, lawmakers will also consider requiring local union chapters to seek re-certification every year.

Florida is one of 22 states with right to work laws that gives workers the right to decide whether or not to join a labor union and Republicans are also proposing de-certifying a union when membership drops below 50 percent. Democrats like Weston's Franklin Sand is questioned why these issues are before the Legislature.

"Unemployment is hovering around 12-percent in some cities it is 40-percent and the best you can do is to punish union members? That's what this bill does. You said you resent the connotation that the bill is a union busting bill. Well, resent away. But at the end of the day it truly was and is a union busting bill. This bill is also anti-American. Because what this bill does is deny union members their freedom of speech and makes it more difficult to participate in the political process."

Back and forth the two sides went as if they were engaged in a rhetorical prize fight about whether an employer should assist a union in the collection of membership dues. Bay County Republican Matt Gaetz said on-line banking makes the practice unnecessary and rejected the allegation the proposal is an attack on labor.

"You know, the next question, which I found sort of ironic, is what you know what is it that we are so afraid of? Why do we have to go after unions, why what are we afraid of? I pose that question to the back row, what are you afraid of in giving union members the opportunity to choose to participate as they participate? Nothing in this bill stops any Floridian any American from making a political contribution to the person of their choice."

The bill's sponsor, Representative Chris Dorworth, jotted down the comments used to describe his proposal. They included the bill's supporters being maniacal and arrogant and that the proposal would evaporate the middle class. This is how he responded on the floor.

"This is a seven page bill and nowhere in this bill is anyone having their right to collective bargaining affected."

And after wards he said comments that the proposal will make it more difficult for workers to participate in public policy discussions were incorrect.

"It empowers the union membership and that can't be a burden. If you empower the membership by definition you are not burdening the union. It just affords them more choice. And I think it properly regulates where government can be. Gets us out of a business that we don't have business being in."

Democrats point out that government agencies have been deducting union dues from paychecks since the 1970s and it is not a financial burden on government. House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders.

"I think all you have to do is ask union members. I have not had a single phone call, email or letter from any union member asking me to support this bill. I have heard from everybody in the labor movement saying they are strongly opposed to it. So that's why the argument I thought of this is for union members is a little bit of it's hard to keep a straight face. We know what it is. It is political payback and there are consequences to elections. Unions generally support Democrats, we didn't win and this is the payback for that."

The proposal passed the House and was sent to the Senate where there is a companion bill sponsored by Senator John Thrasher. Tuesday union members are expected in Tallahassee to protest what they consider anti union bills in the Legislature.