Following similar actions in Wisconsin and Iowa, eternal union representation of teachers is a thing of the past in Florida; the new law doesn’t go quite far enough, however.
Just imagine that in the 1970s your grandmother hired a lawyer to represent her in a lawsuit, and today, you’re forced to patronize the very same law firm in another legal matter. Ridiculous, right? But that is how the unions have finagled their way into multigenerational power.
When workers vote to be unionized, it is a decision invariably made for all eternity. In Florida, for example, government unions were granted collective bargaining powers in 1974, and a year later the state’s 10 largest school districts unionized. But as The Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk pointed out in a 2012 report, “Just 1 percent of current teachers were on the job in 1975. Fully 99 percent of the teachers in Florida’s largest school districts had no choice about being represented by their union.”
However, following similar laws in Wisconsin and Iowa, Florida has joined the “Just say no to nana’s union” club. Earlier this month, Governor Rick Scott signed HB 7055, which includes a provision that would decertify any teacher’s union that fails to get the approval of 50 percent of its workforce.
Perhaps Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran says it best: “The reality is nobody should be forced to be led when the majority of the people you’re leading don’t want to be there.… It’s un-American.”
Needless to say, the teachers unions and their friends don’t agree with Mr. Corcoran, and instead have launched into their usual hyperbolic, sky-is-falling rhetoric. “It is a not-so disguised attempt to destroy public education in the state of Florida,” said Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County teachers union. “It’s a direct torpedo to the unions who come to the rescue of educators,” said Florida State Rep. Kionne McGhee.
(Question for Mr. McGhee: You run for election every two years. During your campaign, do you claim that your opponent is trying to “torpedo” your seat?)
At this time, it’s hard to know how many unions will be able to muster enough support to continue as the exclusive bargaining agent for teachers. Writing in 2015, Mike Antonucci reported that there were 175,000 Florida K-12 teachers eligible to become union members. Of these, 93,000 – slightly over half – chose to do so. But statewide numbers don’t matter. The decision will be made on a district-by-district basis. So in all likelihood, some will axe their union, while others will remain organized.
The Professional Educators Network of Florida (PEN) is an organization that provides professional development opportunities and legal support to teachers in the Sunshine State. In an attempt to calm teachers’ jitters about the prospect of not being unionized, PEN reminds them that union membership does not always guarantee higher salaries. In fact, neighboring Georgia teacher salaries are on average $8,000 higher per annum than those in Florida, and the greater pay is achieved without adversarial collective bargaining agreements. (Collective bargaining for teachers is illegal in Georgia and four other states.)
Unionistas may claim that a recertification law is not necessary because workers can always decertify a union if they are not happy with it. While technically that’s true, it is an onerous task. F. Vincent Vernuccio, senior fellow at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, calls it a “David versus Goliath affair” where the union can “levy fines or bring other disciplinary actions against union members who attempt to decertify.” Also, the decertification option can typically only be exercised during a 30-day window “after the union contract has expired or every three years, whichever comes first. The employer may not help the workers with this process at all, but unions can and often do spend large sums of money to squash the effort.”
My only quibble with the new Florida law is that it doesn’t go quite far enough. Under HB 7055, 51 percent of the teachers in a school district can drag the dissenting 49 percent into collective bargaining negotiations. I maintain that those who don’t want to join a union should not be forced to be a part of the collective bargaining unit at all. Those teachers should be free to negotiate for themselves and not be required to have anything to do with a union. The idea of a “members only” union is fair to both sides, but, of course, that’s usually reviled by monopoly-minded hardcore unionistas.
That said, HB 7055 is certainly a step in the right direction and hopefully more states will follow suit. Nana may have been a wonderful person, but times have changed and the grandkids deserve the freedom to follow their own course.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.