Florida has a consistent and laudable record of protecting public employees from union coercion. And the Sunshine State has long ensured that workers, whether in the public or private sector, cannot be fired for withdrawing from a union. But now our state’s employee protections need a serious update.
The 2022 Legislative Session offers state leaders a chance to make those updates — and to stand up for the next generation of some of our most vital public employees: teachers.
Three specific reforms are under consideration.
First, state leaders can require most government unions to verify public employee membership annually and report it to the school district.
Having accurate membership numbers is about more than just good accounting. Since 2018, Florida has required local teachers’ unions to stand for re-election, or “recertification,” if their membership drops below 50% in a bargaining unit. This is critical since teachers often have little choice in who represents them. Many bargaining units have had a monopoly on representation since before their teacher members were even born. Teachers deserve a regular opportunity to register their approval — or disapproval — with their union at the ballot box.
The process of verifying membership numbers to trigger these elections is inconsistent, however. Anyone who tries to obtain documentation is more likely to receive one-off Excel spreadsheets, handwritten notes, or nothing at all. It’s either intentional obfuscation or shockingly poor bookkeeping. Either way, teachers pay the price.
This lack of accountability and oversight underscores the need for the second reform under consideration this Legislative Session. State leaders would require government unions to maintain records of membership for the state and local districts to review when required. This move would establish yet another safeguard to ensure that union practices are fair and accurate.
Finally, as a third step, state leaders can require government unions to begin collecting dues directly from members, rather than using taxpayer-funded resources to have the government collect those dues.
Let’s be clear. Florida leaders have a proven financial commitment to teachers. Over the past three years, for example, Gov. Ron DeSantis and legislative leaders have prioritized addressing disparities in teacher pay. They’ve begun making Florida increasingly competitive, with a goal of becoming one of the best-paying states for teachers. This effort is a valid and laudable use of our state’s fiscal resources.
Collecting dues for teachers’ unions, however, is not.
Now, what would these three reforms offer Florida teachers? For one, a more competitive, pro-employee landscape.
Current bargaining units have had a monopoly for decades, yet our teachers have little to show for it. Over that time, teachers’ biggest champions have been not their union leaders but Gov. DeSantis and legislators, who have made teacher pay a priority over the past three years.
In education — as in technology, health care and many other sectors — competition breeds choice. And choice breeds quality. That competition may present challenges for existing unions, who’ve had an easy monopoly for decades. But it will force greater union accountability to benefit our teachers, who certainly deserve it.
The reforms proposed in 2022 are employee-centered. They also reflect Floridians’ opinions on the issue. According to a recent poll by The James Madison Institute, two-thirds of Floridians support increased transparency and accountability, just as they support the unions collecting their own dues.
For some union leaders, however, the prospect of change is jarring. Perhaps that’s why deflection and misinformation now threaten to undermine honest discussion about how competition and choice would improve union representation.
But our teachers deserve better than the status quo. And if the past is any indication of the future, they can’t expect meaningful change from union leaders. They — and all of Florida — would do better to look to state leaders like DeSantis.
Florida has consistently prioritized both workplace freedom and the interests of our state’s teachers. Now it’s poised to make good on that commitment yet again.
Rep. Bob Rommel is a member of the Florida House representing District 106. Sal Nuzzo is the vice president of policy at The James Madison Institute.