Florida bill targets union due collections for public school teachers, some nurses

News Channel 8 | By Sam Sachs | March 1, 2023

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill) filed a legislative proposal to change how union dues and fees are collected for public employees, but it does not apply to unions for law enforcement, correctional officers, probation officers, or firefighters.

Instead, the bill only applies to teachers’ unions, and potentially some nurses’ unions if their employees work for state agencies. As it stands, union membership is not required as a condition of employment for any of the organizations the bill mentions.

The legislation, Senate Bill 256, meets one of the stated reform priorities of Gov. Ron DeSantis, outlined in various speeches made by the governor in recent weeks.

Specifically, DeSantis has taken issue with what he calls the politicization of schools through teachers’ unions, and proposed changing how union dues and fees are collected to put more control in teachers’ hands.

Now, SB 256 is on the legislative agenda for the March session, putting that goal in the hands of Florida lawmakers.

As previously reported, DeSantis has proposed introducing legislation to stop teachers unions from collecting dues before paychecks hit bank accounts. In other commentary, the governor said unions play politics with teachers’ salaries, and wanted to use legislation in the coming fiscal year to make sure teachers are paid in a timely fashion. He announced that intention during his unveiling of the state’s fiscal plan for 2023.

At the end of January, DeSantis said his legislative proposals for education reform would mean big pay increases for teachers. The budget proposal included $1 billion for teacher pay bumps, part of what has been called a “Teacher Empowerment Plan.”

“A school union has a responsibility to notify the members of the cost of membership, we also believe you should not have the school be a focus of school union politics, and politicking,” DeSantis said in January. “Handing out literature and doing all of this stuff. Do that on your own time, not on the public’s time. We also believe, and will be reflected in this proposal, if you’re working in a school union, you should not make more than the school’s highest paid teacher.”

Under DeSantis’ proposal, automatic due collections for teachers union members would require explicitly given consent, as well as require that unions represent a minimum of 60% of teachers in the district for the organization to be certified.

Should Ingoglia’s bill pass both chambers of the legislature, it would require that employees who wish to be members of a union sign a membership form starting July 1.

The form must include the name of the organization, the employee name, the class code, class title of the employee, name of the public employer, employing agency, and the amount of any initiation fees and monthly dues owed by the employee, if applicable.

The legislation also requires that employees be allowed to revoke their membership in labor organizations at any time of the year, and that upon receiving an employee’s written membership revocation letter, the employee is released from the union.

Additionally, organizations would not be allowed to limit an employee’s right to revoke membership to specific dates. The organizations must also keep membership authorization forms and revocation forms on record in case of an inspection by the Public Employees Relations Commission.

The bill also stipulates that officials for employee organizations cannot have higher salaries than the highest salary of an employee in the organization. The labor unions would also have to submit annual audits when applying for registration renewal, which must also be reviewed by a certified public accountant.

Meeting DeSantis’ proposal, Ingoglia’s bill would make it so unions must also represent 60% of employees in order to register as representatives with employers. If an organization has fewer than 60% of employees for their chapter, it must petition for recertification within a month of renewal time. If they do not retain 60% of employee membership, their certification would be revoked.

Current law sets that limit at 50%, meaning the proposed bill raises the threshold for organization.

Both organizations and public employers would also be allowed to contest a registration or renewal application if they believe the application is inaccurate, according to SB 256. The Public Employees Relations Commission would then investigate.

The commission would also be responsible for revoking certification if a union does not comply or cooperate with the investigation, or if it is found that the organization intentionally provided false or misleading information.

Additionally, unions would be required to submit annual financial audit reports showing “detailed breakdowns” of revenue and expenses, as well as membership dues and assessments, and inform members of all annual membership costs.

The bill also makes it illegal for unions to “distribute literature in areas where the actual work of public employees other than law enforcement officers, firefighters, correctional officers, or correctional probation officers is performed,” which pertains to offices, warehouses, schools, or other public installations.

Offering items or services of value to a public officer would be made a crime, in addition to providing said public officers with compensation or payment that they would be prohibited from accepting under state law.

As written in the bill, none of the above regulations or restrictions apply to unions that represent publicly employed law enforcement officers, firefighters, correctional officers, or correctional probation officers.

The bill, if passed, takes effect July 1.

WFLA.com has reached out to a representative for Sen. Ingoglia asking for clarification on which unions in addition to teachers’ unions the bill may apply to.

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