By Sahid Fawaz
Republicans are at it again. This time they have their sights set on unions in Florida.
"A state bill that could potentially break up labor unions like the St. Johns Education Association will be taken up in Tallahassee in the 2018 legislative session which opens Jan. 9.
House Bill 25 is nearly identical to its precursor which passed in the Republican-led House but failed to gain support in the Senate in 2017. Under the proposal, any public-sector union — except those representing first responders — would be automatically decertified if it doesn’t reach a threshold of 50 percent of dues-paying members.
Currently, about 49 percent of St. Johns County’s public school teachers are members of the union. Approximately 2,500 educators in the district are elibible.
Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood), the architect of the 2017 bill, is sponsoring the controversial proposition once again this year. A Senate companion bill has been put forth by Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota).
If approved, the legislation would go into effect July 1 and dismantle unions not meeting eligibility requirements as they come up for annual recertification. If their membership numbers changed, unions could apply again but would have to reestablish themselves from scratch.
Florida is a right-to-work state where union membership is not required as a condition to employment, but many labor organizations exist, from those serving nurses to groups of bus drivers banned together in solidarity.
Of course, collective bargaining for salaries and benefits is one of the main reasons unions draw membership. But Michelle Dillon, president of the St. Johns Education Association, said there other benefits, as well.
“Our main purpose as a union is to bargain salary, insurance premiums, and workplace rules and policies. But we are so much more than that: we offer representation should disciplinary issues arrive, professional development, leadership opportunities and advocacy from the local to national level,” Dillon said.
Dillon said that with the threat of HB 25 hanging over their heads, she and other union leaders here are always focused on increasing their numbers but there is even more of a push to do so now."