Florida’s public unions at scrutiny of SB 256
Teachers protesting SB 256 (Courtesy of Yahoo News.)

Florida’s public unions at scrutiny of SB 256

On Mar. 29 Florida passed Senate Bill (SB) 256, targeting public unions and hitting teachers’ unions especially hard. Except for police, firefighters, correction and probation officers, unions under this bill must maintain membership of 60 percent of eligible employees to remain certified and maintain their contracts with employers. Similarly, House Bill (HB) 1445 is making its way through house committees. This bill aims to strip unions of the ability to take union dues directly from union members’ paychecks. This legislation makes the future for Florida’s educators a lot harder.

The two bills aiming to weaken teachers’ unions are among many plans to leave teachers without a way to fight for their employment rights. SB 256 also includes an amendment to remove “certain” classes from High School Diploma Equivalent programs (GED). According to Florida’s Department of Education (FDE), “Florida’s high school graduation rate decreased by 2.8 percentage points over the last year,” which stresses the relationship between the public school system with students and teachers.

Florida’s status as a “right-to-work state” comes into play when considering the risk teachers’ unions are facing at the hands of SB 256 and HB 1445. According to Article 1, Section 5 of the Florida Constitution, “the right of employees, by and through a labor organization, to bargain collectively shall not be denied or abridged. Public employees shall not have the right to strike,” which cannot be “denied or abridged on account of membership or non-membership in any labor union or labor organization.”

The rule that public employees are not permitted to strike leaves public school educators at all levels being limited in their rights to protest when their union rights are being threatened. The convenience of having union dues being taken out of a paycheck provides a level of accessibility for teachers and professors to join unions. Without this option, the 60 percent of employees now needed to maintain union status might be harder to preserve. And because the right to work provides the ability to work without a union, teachers who struggle financially might be less likely to want to pay union dues.

Educators across the state are trying to make their voices heard by showing up for a protest in front of the Senate chambers in Tallahassee. Teachers’ unions are also calling for more engagement from their communities via Facebook posts and union websites by holding information sessions about the bill and what it means for them. Union advocates have even created templates to be used when contacting Florida representatives involved to make it easier to communicate public feelings about SB 256/HB 1445.

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