A controversial bill affecting union membership cleared the House by a surprisingly narrow 63-52 margin Wednesday, though its path forward is uncertain.
The bill (HB 1), sponsored by Tampa Republican Rep. Jamie Grant, would require public employees who want to join a union to sign a membership authorization form and for employers to verify the employee’s intent before any union dues can be collected for membership purposes.
It would also require employees to reauthorize membership annually.
Grant’s bill, which he called a “human resources bill” on Wednesday, would also require unions to terminate membership upon written request from the employee.
Unions would not be able to ask why the member left their ranks.
The bill passed along party lines.
Democrats took a caucus position against the bill, which is vociferously opposed by unions.
Outnumbered, Democrats made what would be futile arguments against Grant’s bill.
Reps. Joe Geller and Susan Valdes made the case that the bill was not necessary.
“Florida is already a right to work state,” Valdes noted.
Rep. John Cortes made a similar case, claiming “right to work … covers everything.”
Laws governing union membership in Florida already require unions to receive written authorization from employees to collect membership dues and they are required to sever membership and stop collecting dues within 30 days of written notification of a member’s intent to withdraw.
Rep. Anna Eskamani bemoaned the “administrative burden” created by “red tape.”
“Administrative burden is used to delay voting, to restrict access to abortion, and I would argue this bill attempts to create administrative burden to make it more difficult for public employees to fight for better wages and benefits,” Eskamani said.
The bill received heavy opposition in committee from teachers, teachers’ unions and representatives from fire, police and other public employee unions.
Rep. Tina Polsky referenced that, noting that “teachers, firefighters, policemen” found the “unnecessary” bill “insulting” and designed to make unionizing harder.
Rep. Fentric Driskell made a similar point: “One of the concerns I have is intimidation. We don’t want to chill the right to freely organize. We want to stand with our workers.”
But those arguments would not carry the day.
“If someone works and earns a living, they ought to consent before someone takes a portion of that living,” Rep. Grant said on the House floor. “This is a public employee; they should not be threatened or feel threatened into joining or out of leaving. Our bill tries to strike the right balance; it’s easy to opt in, it ought to be easy to opt out. And you’re not going to deal with discrimination or the fear of discrimination.”
Grant was backed up in quotes from a media release sent out by the House.
“Florida should be a place where public employees get to keep every last nickel they earn without fear of retribution from their union,” said Skylar Zander, Florida Director for Americans for Prosperity. “We hope Florida lawmakers pass this bill to ensure the state is in compliance with the law and show our public employees that lawmakers have their backs.”
“A policy reform that protects the wages of hard working public sector employees should be a no brainer. Sadly, public sector unions are committed to maintaining their racket on not only using government as collection agents, but also refusing even the most basic form of accountability,” said Sal Nuzzo, Vice President of the James Madison Institute. “Their mission — to avoid transparency — is hopefully on its last breath. It is our hope that this common sense reform will continue to make progress and we put public unions in the Sunshine State finally in the sunshine.”
Time will tell if those laudable aspirations become reality.
A similar bill in the Senate (SB 804) got no committee hearings, suggesting an uncertain path beyond House passage for the legislation.
Florida Politics’ Janelle Irwin Taylor and A.G. Gancarski contributed to this post.