Teachers unions are suing over Gov. DeSantis-championed legislation

The new law does not affect unions that have supported DeSantis, educators pointed out.

Mickey Mouse and unionized educators have something in common.

Just like Disney did last month, teacher and faculty unions have filed suit against the state for attacking their First Amendment rights. They call legislation that limits unions’ ability to sign up members and collect dues an attempt to retaliate against them for speaking out. The suit asks the courts to stop the law from being enforced.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the legislation (SB 256) that spawned the lawsuit Tuesday, saying it would mean more take-home pay for public school teachers since it eliminates automatic payroll deductions for union dues. Union officials, however, noted the bill doesn’t touch other unions — those representing law enforcement, corrections and firefighters — that have supported the Governor.

“The Governor is using this to retaliate against his critics,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest teachers union. “It’s very similar to what we’ve seen in the attacks on Disney. … The law violates our right to free speech and to association under the First Amendment of the United States.”

The 330-page lawsuit (including a 179-page exhibit) filed in U.S. District Court in Gainesville did not come as a surprise to DeSantis, he said at a news conference Tuesday.

“Well of course they are going to do that,” he said, defending the legislation as striking a blow against the pressure teachers feel to join up with the union.

He said the unions are still allowed to have people write checks for their dues.

“They have a better sense of how much money is actually going (to the union) and then they can evaluate what is the union actually doing for them,” he said.

DeSantis was not shy about his scorn for the teachers union as he signed the bill into law Tuesday, noting they sued him for trying to reopen the schools before most other states did during the COVID-19 emergency.

“The school unions have become very partisan — that’s not what schools are about,” DeSantis said, also referencing the unions’ support for “forced masking” of students during the emergency.

Disney alleges the state’s action that ended its long-held ability to self-govern its resort was retaliation for speaking out against a law (HB 1557) that prohibited classroom discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation. Critics dubbed the legislation the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The unions, meanwhile, have opposed the same legislation, along with other signature issues DeSantis has championed such as the expansion of school choice (HB 1), the Stop WOKE Act (HB 7) and his stand against the College Board’s Advanced Placement African American Studies curriculum, the suit says.

It’s an attack on the freedom of thought, said the FEA’s Spar.

“He made it clear he was targeting educators because we exercise our constitutional right to speak out against the attempts by this Governor and others to stymie the freedom to learn and to stymie freedom of thought,” Spar said. “His goal is to take away the ability of educators to speak out. And to do this, he is taking away our freedom to choose how we want to pay our union dues.”

Efforts to stop automatic paycheck deductions for union dues have been successfully challenged in other states, union officials said. But other aspects of the bill have never been tried before against unions, according to Leon Dayan, a Washington-based lawyer with Bredhoff & Kaiser on the suit’s legal team.

He called it a government takeover of a private association.

“A piece of the bill actually has the state take over the sign-up process, the membership application process,” Dayan said. The applicant “has to sign up on a state form that has a state-drafted script.”

The Alachua County teachers union and the statewide Florida Education Association are among the plaintiffs, as are the United Faculty of Florida and its University of Florida (UF) chapter. They are suing officers of the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission.

Paul Ortiz, a UF history professor who is also with United Faculty, said his organization and the teachers’ unions are speaking out about the Governor’s agenda in the interests of students — and wanting to preserve both systems’ top-rated stature.

“The reason that we are a top-ranked university system in the country is that starting in the late ’70s, we fought and gained the right to … form free and independent unions to represent our interests, the interests of our students,” Ortiz said, noting the unions have advocated for the kind of gender and ethnic studies DeSantis has taken a stand against.

“Without my collective bargaining unit, I cannot offer my students the same level of education and training and experience as my peers and colleagues up north,” he continued. “Our students in Florida deserve an equal chance.”

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


  • Rob Desantos

    May 10, 2023 at 2:07 pm

    Little Ron is working hard to get sued (and lose) as many times as his former hero Big Don.

  • gloriajame

    May 10, 2023 at 2:32 pm

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  • Billy the Bamboozler

    May 10, 2023 at 3:18 pm

    For about $15-$20 state income tax.. they could pay teachers, police officers, and corrections officers a good amount more. The small government, low tax mentality is the problem… and the sub-apes who work in these positions and vote Republican are voting themselves piss poor and decreasing their own economic mobility.

    • PeterH

      May 10, 2023 at 4:03 pm

      Well said.

  • ScienceBLVR

    May 10, 2023 at 4:42 pm

    Man, of all the crap DeSantis and the GOP led legislature have done in their war on teachers and public education, this one ranks among the worst. And to think they singled us out .. right there in the open! Sue them! Ya bet your bippy! Oh, all the other public sector unions or professional organizations, as our district calls it, can have the convenience of auto pay, but not those lackadaisical, got lots of time on their hands teachers, well, they can write checks… every two weeks.. Checks? Who writes checks anymore? DeSantis is delusional and a teacher hater. We won’t forget.

Comments are closed.


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