Union-Busting Florida Education Bill Passes Thanks to State Democrats
Bill Montford / Facebook

Union-Busting Florida Education Bill Passes Thanks to State Democrats

Every public school teacher in West Virginia is on strike. This fact has, rightfully, brought cheers from a certain sector of the progressive left. But some of the nation's more center-leaning pundits have found odd ways to scold the demonstrators. MSNBC host and full-time Twitter troll Joy Ann Reid opined that the striking workers apparently deserve their situation for not voting enough Democrats into office.

Well, Florida just proved that simply voting in random Democratic candidates won't necessarily help or save any members of the nation's working class. A massive, omnibus education bill passed the state Senate yesterday despite the fact that it contains a provision that would all but cripple Florida's teachers' unions. The provision, modeled after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's union-kneecapping Act 10, strips teachers' unions of their bargaining power to negotiate for better wages, health care, or other rights if the organizations cannot get more than 50 percent of a school's employees to join.

No one backing the bill has actually explained who would benefit from it. As it stands, Florida's teachers' unions negotiate for workers' rights for every employee at a school — including workers who do not join the union. The lawmakers pushing the provision have simply said it isn't "fair" for a union to represent an entire school's workforce if fewer than half of the school's employees elect to join, even if that union is fighting for access to medical care or better wages for all of those workers. (Unsurprisingly, the union-hating Koch brothers' lobbying arm, Americans for Prosperity, has endorsed the idea.) Unions that fail the 50-percent-threshold test must then undergo a costly and arduous reapplication process.

For some gobsmacking reason, one Democrat, Tallahassee's own state Sen. Bill Montford, voted for the measure. Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout noted the bill would have died had Montford dissented, because three Republicans actually voted against the package:

Florida legislators pushed the bill through less than a month after multiple members of the Broward Teachers Union died in the Parkland school shooting. The state's teachers' unions are also opposed to HB 7055 for a bunch of other reasons: For one, it creates something called the "Hope Scholarship," which gives bullied students state money to flee to private schools. The state's unions note that bullying rates at public and private institutions are pretty much identical and instead say the main lawmaker pushing the idea, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, is simply trying to find ways to give private and charter schools more money.

In response, Joanne McCall, the head of the statewide teachers' union, the Florida Education Association, tweeted her disgust with Montford, as did other major union representatives and progressive politicians across the state:

Of course, Montford appears to be one of the most transparently conflicted lawmakers in Florida. State lawmakers all serve part-time, but Montford makes his salary advocating for the Florida Association of District School Superintendents — AKA the people who sit on the opposite end of the bargaining table as the state's teachers' unions. After obtaining text messages that showed Montford simultaneously working as a legislator while lobbying the very same Legislature on behalf of his organization, Politico labeled the situation "one of the Capitol’s more glaring examples" of a conflict of interest.

The bill now heads back to the House for a brief and largely symbolic approval vote before heading to Gov. Rick Scott's desk. If Scott signs the bill, the state's largest teachers' union, United Teachers of Dade, will almost surely be stripped of its bargaining power. Union President Karla Hernandez-Mats released a statement yesterday afternoon demanding Scott veto the bill.

"We are calling on Governor Scott to veto this abhorrent piece of legislation and demand that our legislators do their job by putting forth common-sense policies that address the core issues that are endangering the safety of our schools and the future of our children," she said.

Pretty much every major union in Florida disapproves of HB 7055. The Florida AFL-CIO released a statement at 6:30 p.m. yesterday stating it stands in solidarity with the state's teachers.

"Today was a sad day in Florida," the AFL-CIO wrote. "Today’s vote pours salt in the wound of last year’s HB 7069 battle, but we are confident that the people are waking up to this threat to our most cherished institution and are ready to escalate the fight."

Rich Templin, the Florida AFL-CIO's legislative director, tweeted that the attack on teachers' unions statewide was the fault of the Florida Democratic Party, which has traditionally relied on unions for the little support it has received over the years.

The state's other unions are right to be nervous. State Rep. Scott Plakon has proposed a standalone version of the union-busting measure in each of the last two years. Those bills, which included exceptions for police, fire, and corrections unions, failed in 2017 and 2018, but if HB 7055 succeeds in crushing teachers' unions, the business-crazed Florida Legislature is sure to push for similar laws statewide.

Mats, the head of Dade's teachers' union, warned New Times about the issue in 2017.

"From a national level, we see this as a direct attack on labor rights," she said. "So I think that it’s happening at the national level, and now it's coming all the way down to the state."

In Wisconsin, Act 10's passage in 2011 decimated the state's public-sector unions. Job benefits for teachers have plummeted over the past seven years. Moreover, Wisconsin now faces a teacher shortage.

On Facebook, United Teachers of Dade noted that Florida legislators don't seem to practice what they preach when it comes to "fair" representation: By UTD's count, not a single Florida Senator received more than 50 percent of the vote in his or her district in 2016. (Alan Mathison of the St. Lucie Classroom Teacher’s Association originally created the graphic.)

"Our legislature believes in union decertification if under 50% membership," the union wrote. "Interestingly enough, not a single FL Senator had 50% of registered voters vote for them in 2016."

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