Union Changes Backed in House
Amid opposition from teachers and other government workers, a House panel Tuesday approved a measure that would make a series of changes for public-employee unions, including preventing workers from having dues deducted from their paychecks.
The Republican-controlled House State Administration & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee voted 9-6 to support the bill (HB 1197), filed by Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, and Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach. The vote was along almost straight party lines, with Rep. Toby Overdorf, R-Palm City, joining Democrats in opposing the bill, which also includes changes such as requiring unions to petition for recertification if their membership drops below 50 percent of the eligible employees.
Numerous teachers and other union members urged lawmakers to reject the bill, saying it would not help teacher shortages and is unfair because it would exempt unions that represent law-enforcement officers and firefighters.
“There is simply no reason for this legislation,” said Stephanie Kunkel, a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association teachers union. “Florida is already facing a massive shortage of our teachers and our support professionals.”
But Plakon said lawmakers often have treated first responders differently than other public-sector workers. “The idea that we somehow treat people that run into fires and buildings differently than the rest of state employees is long established in Florida law,” he said. Business groups, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, support the bill. But it has touched off a sometimes-emotional debate.
“When I think about it, I say it’s hypocritical, disrespectful, and because I am a Christian, it’s evil,” Rep. Felicia Robinson, D-Miami Gardens said. “Those are the words I use to describe this proposed legislation. I actually compare it to slavery and the Jim Crow era.”
That drew a retort from Plakon. “To describe as evil legislation that is business versus government, I think is beyond the pale and is inappropriate for an issue like this,” he said. The bill needs approval from the House State Affairs Committee before it could go to the full House. A Senate version (SB 1458) has not been heard in committees.