House prepped to consider bill critics label ‘union-busting’

'If I'm a union buster, I must be the world's worst union buster.'

Legislation asking public employee union members to annually reaffirm that they want to remain members is on its way to the House floor.

Under the proposal (HB 1197), public employees would have to sign a member authorization form every year to maintain union membership. Members also couldn’t opt to have union dues automatically deducted from their salaries. Additionally, unions with less than 50% of eligible members in the union would have to recertify as the recognized collective bargaining agent, effectively canceling the existing union contract.

The measure specifically carves out police officers, firefighters, correctional officers and probation officers and their unions.

During the bill’s hearing in the House State Affairs Committee on Monday, the bill sponsor and Longwood Republican Rep. Scott Plakon argued the bill would modernize state law, taking into account that there are ways for people to set up autopay.

“It provides greater transparency, accountability and democracy,” Plakon said.

Neptune Beach Republican Rep. Cord Byrd, who is co-sponsoring the bill, argued taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidize unions that conduct political activities. Taxpayers are subsidizing unions because the onus for processing deductions falls on the state, he continued.

“They absolutely have a right to engage in political activity, but the taxpayer isn’t obligated to be the dues collector for that activity,” Byrd said.

Democrats railed against the bill, calling it an unnecessary and potential unconstitutional proposal to break up women-dominated, Democratic-leaning unions that Republicans dislike.

“If it walks like a union-busting bill, if it sounds like a union-busting bill and if it smells like a union-busting bill, it’s a union-busting bill. That’s what this is,” said Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.

However, Plakon said teacher union membership has increased statewide since 2018, when he shepherded a similar 50% threshold into law for teacher unions. That law has been upheld in court.

“If I’m a union buster, I must be the world’s worst union buster,” Plakon said.

Others such as Gainesville Democratic Rep. Yvonne Hinson, who cited a Google search, argued there is a right for union members to have their dues deducted from their payroll. But Byrd pointed to a 2019 decision from the Iowa Supreme Court that rejected the right to automatic deductions.

“There is no right to have your union dues deducted by your employer. That is not a right,” Byrd said. “You have a right to organize. That is the right that’s being protected.”

Byrd’s comments didn’t assuage Hinson’s concerns that Florida would be opening itself up to lawsuits, which taxpayers would also have to pay for.

“I don’t know why we would be willing to burden the same taxpaying citizens with lawsuits about something we don’t have to do,” Hinson said.

With the provision carving out certain unions, Plakon maintained he views those professions differently than other lines of work, in part because they are front-line workers working dangerous fields. As critical employees, Plakon suggested they deserve more relaxed union requirements.

Democrats and critics noted the professions carved from the bill are male-dominated.

“I’m asking our brave men … in the unions, of the ones that are protected, to stand up and protect the women,” said Tampa Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph.

With the State Affairs Committee’s vote, the bill next heads to the full House for its consideration.

On the Senate side, Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley‘s bill (SB 1458) has yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing. With the 60-day Legislative Session approaching its midpoint, time is running out for senators to consider the measure. However, the Senate could potentially put the House bill through one committee, fast-tracking the legislation to the Senate floor.

If approved, the measure would take effect July 1.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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