DeSantis takes aim at teachers union dues

Tampa Bay Times | By News Service of Florida | December 20, 2022

He wants the Legislature to pass a bill to prevent teachers from having union dues deducted from their paychecks.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis has signaled that he will make a priority of passing a long-debated proposal that would prevent teachers from having union dues deducted from their paychecks.

DeSantis supported the proposal Monday during a speech in Orlando, describing it as “paycheck protection legislation.” The Florida Education Association and other teachers unions backed DeSantis’ Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist, in the Nov. 8 election, with Miami-Dade County teachers union leader Karla Hernandez serving as Crist’s running mate.

DeSantis also has battled unions in recent years about issues such as reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. During what was described as a “Freedom Blueprint” speech Monday, he tied the union dues idea to raising pay for teachers during the 2023 legislative session.

“It’s more of a guarantee that that money is going to actually go to those teachers,” DeSantis said in the speech, posted online by the NTD television network. “It’s not going to be frittered away by interest groups who get involved in the school system. And so I think those will be really, really positive reforms, and we’re looking forward to doing that. And I think we’re going to get big, big support in the Legislature.”

Under such a proposal, teachers would have to pay union dues separately, making it less convenient. DeSantis said the proposal “maximizes freedom to choose, and I think it will be a more accurate reflection of who actually wants to be part of this or not.”

The Legislature has considered similar proposals since at least 2011, but they have not passed. A proposal (HB 1197) during the 2022 session was approved by the House but did not make it through the Senate.

The proposals have drawn fierce opposition from unions and Democrats, as such changes could make it harder for unions to get funded.

“This is a union-busting bill,” then-Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said during a debate in January.

Past proposals also would have affected some other public-sector unions. The 2022 House bill, however, exempted unions representing law-enforcement officers, correctional officers, correctional probation officers and firefighters. DeSantis did not address other unions in his speech Monday.

While a bill addressing the union issues had not been filed as of Tuesday morning, DeSantis also indicated he supports setting a threshold for unions to represent teachers. That threshold would involve at least 50% of teachers being members of the unions.

“If they don’t have a majority of the teachers who are actually signing up to pay dues, it should be decertified,” DeSantis said. “You shouldn’t be able to continue as a zombie organization that doesn’t have the support of the people you are negotiating for.”

DeSantis did not provide details about his proposal for increasing pay during the 2023 session, which will start March 7.

In a somewhat-unusual step. DeSantis became heavily involved in helping elect some conservative school board members in this year’s elections.

Republican lawmakers during the 2023 session will consider a renewed attempt to hold partisan school-board elections. Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican who doubles as chairman of the state GOP, and Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, have filed identical measures aimed at moving away from the system of non-partisan races.

If passed by the Legislature, the proposal would need voter approval in 2024 because it would be a constitutional amendment. School board races are required to be nonpartisan contests under the Constitution.

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