Florida Teacher Unions Risk Decertification Under New Law

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By Chris Marr

Florida teacher unions with less than 50 percent of members paying dues face the threat of decertification under legislation Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law.

The governor signed H.B. 7055 on March 11, enacting 200 pages worth of education provisions involving charter schools, scholarships, and tax credits for donations to scholarship funds.

The state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, fought the bill on a variety of provisions that it saw as hurting public schools—not least of which was the provision targeting low-membership unions.

In announcing the bill signing, the governor praised provisions of the bill that he said would advance school choice and high-quality education.

“Every child in Florida should have the opportunity to get a great education at the school of their choice so they can achieve their dreams,” Scott said in a March 11 written statement. He told reporters after the bill signing he supported the union requirement as something that “increases transparency.”

Scott’s office would not provide further comment March 12.

The law, which takes effect July 1, requires all teacher unions to report annually to the state the number of eligible employees in each bargaining unit and the number of dues-paying members. If a unit has less than 50 percent of its membership paying dues, the labor organization must petition the state for recertification with the signatures of at least 30 percent of eligible employees and then win an election. If the election fails, the state can decertify the union as that bargaining unit’s representative.

Transparency Needed, Supporters Say

The requirement would force transparency and accountability in public-sector unions, where low participation often means the union representation is inherited rather than elected, supporters said during state Senate floor debate. Critics of the requirement—mostly Democrats but also a few Republican lawmakers—said the law would be unfair to school teachers who often can’t afford to pay dues yet enjoy the benefits of negotiated labor contracts.

Both sides said Florida’s teachers unions typically have lower membership rates than other unions, such as those representing police officers and firefighters.

An earlier version of the requirement, originally contained in H.B. 25, would have targeted all public-sector unions in Florida, with the exception of police and firefighter unions. That bill wasn’t moving in the Senate, and supporters added the provision to the omnibus education bill instead, with a focus on teacher unions only.

The provision is similar to public-sector union requirements pursued in a number of GOP-majority state legislatures, in particular a 2011 Wisconsin law that recently survived a court challenge.

The union didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment.

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