Hillsborough teachers union will have to recertify under tougher state requirements

WUSF | By Nancy Guan | March 26, 2024 

The Tampa Bay area’s largest teachers union, the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, was just shy of the required number of members.

The Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association (HCTA) barely missed the threshold to remain certified, which means they will have to go through a longer recertification process in order to keep representing its teachers.

A law passed last year — SB 256 — made it harder for public sector unions (except for correctional officers, law enforcement and fire fighters) to remain certified by raising the required number of dues-paying members to 60%. It also eliminated automatic payroll deductions, a decades-long practice that took dues payments out of employee paychecks automatically.

K-12 teachers unions had already needed to meet a 50% requirement that was enacted in 2018 solely for teachers unions.

But eliminating automatic payroll deduction had essentially unenrolled existing members from the union, said Rob Kriete, president of the HCTA.

“Last June, we had 62% of the members of the union and then on July 1, we had zero,” said Kriete, referring to the day the law went into effect last year.

Since then, they’ve been building back membership one-by-one, he said.

On Friday, three days before the HCTA’s recertification deadline, Kriete said the union was “right on the door” of 60%.

But, he explained, that number fluctuates as teachers retire, leave or join the district. By Monday, the union had fallen below the threshold.

What now?

The HCTA is the largest teachers union in the Tampa Bay area, representing around 13,000 educators. Hillsborough County Public Schools is the third largest district in the state overall.

If HCTA wants to remain the official bargaining agent — the duties of which involve negotiating for pay raises, benefits and other protections — it must now complete a recertification process.

Two other units that cover clerical roles and paraprofessionals in the district will also have to recertify.

That involves collecting interest cards from at least 30% of the unit, or all the employees HCTA represents. Those interest cards must then be sent to the state’s Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) within 30 days of when the membership “snapshot” was taken to be counted.

If the union has enough cards, PERC can hold an election. A majority of those who participate must cast “yes” votes so that HCTA can remain certified.

Hillsborough, along with other unions, ran their interest card campaign while recruiting dues-paying members in the event that they do not reach the new threshold.

Kriete said they have enough cards to trigger the election. But teacher support, according to Kriete, was never an issue.

“We know that there is, by and large, support for the work that we’re doing,” he said, “They (state legislators) create these obstacles and this side project of work, when the real work needs to be done to improve our teaching, learning conditions.”

Proponents of SB 256 have touted the law as a paycheck protection measure against “Big Labor.”

But educators have called out the more stringent requirements as a targeted attack on a group that has vocally opposed Gov. Ron DeSantis’s policies and laws.

Other public sectors across the state, however, have also been affected. According to an investigation by WLRN in Miami, more than 40,000 employees, who were once represented by the Association of Federal State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) lost their local union.

“It’s upsetting that we we live in a state where we’re workers rights are being tamped down,” said Kriete.

Meanwhile, Pinellas County and Polk County teachers unions, whose certification deadlines were in March, are also awaiting election dates.

A backlog of applications have overwhelmed PERC, which the state has allocated more funding for to run the elections.

Sarasota and Manatee counties were able to recruit enough dues-paying members, according to their presidents.

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