This Florida Stealth Offensive Against Unions Could Preview GOP Onslaught in 2018

Michael Arria

Workers stand together as they strike at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport to protest what they say are repeat labor violations by airline contractors, G2 Secure Staff and Eulen America, that are preventing employees from organizing to improve poverty wages and poor working conditions on September 1, 2015 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Flori­da Repub­li­cans are push­ing a bill designed to deal the state’s unions a death blow. House Bill 25, which was intro­duced by Long­wood state Rep. Scott Plakon, would decer­ti­fy any union in which 50 per­cent of the work­ers don’t pay dues, thus pre­vent­ing them from being able to col­lec­tive­ly bar­gain. Despite the fact that unions nego­ti­ate for the ben­e­fit of all their work­ers, no employ­ee is forced to pay dues in Flori­da, because it’s a Right to Work” state.

Right to Work poli­cies are pur­pose­ly con­struct­ed to reduce the resources of orga­nized labor, as many work­ers real­ize they can ben­e­fit from their union’s col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing efforts with­out giv­ing them any mon­ey. In prac­tice, HB25 large­ly tar­gets unions that lean left, exempt­ing the few work­er orga­ni­za­tions that typ­i­cal­ly back the GOP: fire­fight­er, police and cor­rec­tions unions.

This same exact move was just attempt­ed by state Repub­li­cans. HB11 was the effec­tive­ly the same bill, but it died dur­ing the 2017 leg­isla­tive ses­sion in May. This is divide and con­quer … It’s an out­right attack on labor unions,” Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep. Wen­gay New­ton said at the time. The right to bar­gain should be upheld and shouldn’t be inter­fered with.”

Not only has the failed leg­is­la­tion been res­ur­rect­ed as HB25, but it’s been fast-tracked for a floor vote when the 2018 leg­isla­tive ses­sion begins next month. Typ­i­cal­ly, bills need approval from mul­ti­ple com­mit­tees, but HB25 was assigned to just one pan­el: the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Com­mit­tee. The bill eas­i­ly passed 14 – 9, despite one Repub­li­can vot­ing with the Democ­rats and activists protest­ing the action out­side. Mem­bers of the com­mit­tee received letters from Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­i­ty, the Koch-fund­ed con­ser­v­a­tive advo­ca­cy group, urg­ing them to vote for the bill.

HB25 would dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact women employ­ees, who make up the major­i­ty at the unions that would be tar­get­ed, while the pre­vi­ous­ly men­tioned male-dom­i­nat­ed orga­ni­za­tions would remain pro­tect­ed. This fact was brought up was brought up dur­ing the Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Com­mit­tee by Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep. Kris­ten Jacobs. I know you said that was not your intent,” Jacobs said to Plakon. But when you look at the work­ers affect­ed by this bill — over 80 per­cent are women. Now if you look at the unions exempt­ed … they are large­ly made up of men.”

The leg­is­la­tion could end col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing for most teach­ers in the state, and Florida’s con­ser­v­a­tive law­mak­ers haven’t exact­ly con­cealed their dis­dain for the orga­ni­za­tions. The teach­ers’ union is fix­at­ed on halt­ing inno­va­tion and com­pe­ti­tion in edu­ca­tion,” said House Speak­er Richard Cor­co­ran dur­ing his swear­ing-in cer­e­mo­ny in 2016. They are lit­er­al­ly try­ing to destroy the lives of a hun­dred thou­sand children.”

Unit­ed Teach­ers of Dade, Miami’s pub­lic teach­ers union, has between 13,000 and 14,000 mem­bers. But if stripped of their col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights, they’d be unable to fight for the 30,000 teach­ers who work in the dis­trict. HB25 is an unnec­es­sary and destruc­tive bill that tar­gets women-dom­i­nat­ed indus­tries by seek­ing to erad­i­cate their labor rights,” UTD pres­i­dent Kar­la Her­nan­dez-Mats told In These Times. There is a bla­tant dis­parate treat­ment being applied by the leg­is­la­ture between major­i­ty male and female pro­fes­sions and their unions, and it is unfor­tu­nate to see that our state law­mak­ers are attempt­ing to move our coun­try back­wards instead of forward.”

Florida’s unions are already up against the odds with­out HB25. Not only is Flori­da a Right to Work state, its con­sti­tu­tion pro­hibits pub­lic employ­ees from strik­ing. Just how dev­as­tat­ing could this bill be for labor? Its poten­tial impact can be gleaned from Florida’s last Annu­al Work­force Report. Only 2.8 per­cent of AFSCME state employ­ees and 7.9 per­cent of Flori­da Nurs­es Asso­ci­a­tion mem­bers pay dues. Even the Police Benev­o­lent Asso­ci­a­tion, the strongest union in the state, would be decer­ti­fied if the leg­is­la­tion applied to them. Only 45.7 per­cent of their mem­bers pay dues, just below the bill’s 50 per­cent threshold.

The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has suc­cess­ful­ly stacked the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board with pro-busi­ness forces, inter­vened against pub­lic employ­ee unions in a land­mark Supreme Court case, and moved to over­turn the few labor vic­to­ries that occurred under Oba­ma. But what’s hap­pen­ing at a nation­al lev­el is tak­ing place at an accel­er­at­ed rate with­in var­i­ous states. HB25 is rem­i­nis­cent of a sweep­ing anti-union bill that was passed in Iowa at the begin­ning of 2017. That leg­is­la­tion stripped more than 100,000 work­ers of their col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights and, just like Flori­da, the bill was fast-tracked and police unions were exempt. Near­ly all of these bills are sim­i­lar to Scott Walker’s infa­mous Act 10, the vast attack on orga­nized labor in Wis­con­sin in 2011.

If HB25 is suc­cess­ful, it could pro­vide yet anoth­er blue­print for state law­mak­ers look­ing to crush orga­nized labor in 2018.

Michael Arria is the U.S. cor­re­spon­dent for Mon­doweiss. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @michaelarria.
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