Joe Henderson: Labor unions should be wary of HB 25 – Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Labor unions should be wary of HB 25

Labor unions exist for a basic reason. Workers in some (not all) professions have learned the hard way not to trust their corporate bosses to do the right thing.

Often, they need the leverage a union gives to achieve a living wage, decent working conditions, health care, and, if necessary, severance benefits.

So, I don’t blame unions for being skeptical of the latest attempt in the Legislature to chip away at their bargaining power.

As Mitch Perry of Florida Politics reported, HB 25 – the brainchild of Longwood Republican Rep. Scott Plakon – would decertify public service unions if dues-paying membership falls below 50 percent of the workforce.

Union leaders, predictably, condemned the move as another attack on their organizations. They say it’s thinly veiled union busting. They are correct.

I feel safe in saying unions aren’t popular with the majority of business owners or Republican lawmakers in this state.

Gee, I wonder why?

When I started working at the late, great Tampa Tribune in 1974, it was made abundantly clear that our Media General corporate masters in Richmond, Va. HATED unions. I remember a rumor, never confirmed, that they would shut down the Trib if we ever tried to organize a local chapter of the national newspaper guild.

This is a good time to mention the Trib, like most big-city daily newspapers of the day, made about 30 percent annual profit. As one editor said during one of the periodic financial crackdowns ordered by Richmond, “A lot of people up there are living in nice, big houses thanks to the work that was done here at the Tribune.”

Workers in other parts of the paper like the back shop and press room were represented by unions, but not the newsroom. The Trib in those days had an unwritten understanding with reporters that if you worked more than 40 hours in a week, which happened a lot, they wouldn’t hassle you for comp time – which could amount to multiple days.

The system technically was against the law.

Every now and then though, somebody would complain about not receiving overtime, and we’d get a memo saying all work had to be completed in a 40-hour week. It was routinely ignored.

Later, some editors decided to follow the letter of the law, rebelled against allowing comp time, and wouldn’t approve overtime.

It was a mess.

Reporters being who they are usually just groaned and did what was necessary to get the job done while those same bosses looked the other way. So much for that extra make-good time.

Later, when we were bought by the private equity group Revolution Capital, people just disappeared – fired without notice, and given just two weeks of severance pay no matter how long they had worked there.

Vacation days were reduced. Wages were randomly cut across the board. Mandatory furlough days were imposed, although one publisher had the gall to suggest that some of us didn’t have to take those days – in essence, he wanted us to work for free.

So yeah, I think it would have been nice to have had some bargaining clout that would have allowed us to say more than, “Yes sir, may I have another?”

Every time I hear someone like Scott Plakon offer something like this proposed bill, all I can think of are those bosses and executives who seem to think employees should just be grateful to have a job at all.

Well sir, the reverse is true. Companies should be grateful to have employees who are honest, hard-working, and get the job done right. The least that should be done is to treat those workers with proper respect.

Sometimes, they need some clout to make sure that happens.

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

2 Comments

  1. One aspect of Plakon’s bill that I have not seen discussed is the reason police and firefighter unions are exempt. Would it be that they vote Republican? Or that it is more politically difficult to go after them? It seems chicken-hearted to not apply a principle across the board if it’s really about a principle and not about something else.

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