The Florida GOP Is Trying to Bust All Labor Unions — Except Cops — Again

Florida Rep. Scott Plakon
Florida Rep. Scott Plakon Florida House of Representatives
During this year's state legislative session, a bill transparently designed to cripple labor unions came close enough to passing that Florida public schoolteachers had to go on a PR blitz to beg lawmakers not to rip their rights away. Teachers, nurses, housekeepers, and every other union-protected industry breathed a sigh of relief when the measure failed during the 2017 legislative session — but the bill has been revived verbatim for 2018 and yesterday passed through its first voting hurdle toward becoming law.

The bill, HB 25, strips collective bargaining power from unions that can't get 50 percent of their workforce to enroll, thus preventing unions from negotiating for health-care plans or paid time off. The bill is so transparently designed as an attack on Democratic-leaning labor organizations that it specifically exempts police, corrections, and firefighters' unions from the new regulations.

Statewide unions sounded the alarm about the bill yesterday morning, mere hours before the House Government Accountability Committee voted on HB 25. Their complaints ultimately proved meaningless: The bill advanced 14 votes to nine. (The measure faces a rougher ride through the state Senate, but in deep-red Tallahassee, anything is possible as long as it's cruel and mean to the working class and the poor.)

"Tallahassee is attacking us again," the United Teachers of Dade, Miami-Dade County's public teachers' union, posted on Facebook yesterday. "HB 25, same as last year's HB 11, is up for a vote today. HB 25 would decertify unions with less than 50 percent dues-paying members. Decertification = loss of contract and loss of contractual rights ($ and work conditions). Please call 855-235-2469 ASAP and urge them to vote NO on HB 25."
State Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican who looks like a low-rent Mitch McConnell impersonator, filed his bill again this past October. Last week, hard-right state Sen. Greg Steube, a frequent target of New Times' ire, filed a companion measure. Plakon has repeatedly defended the bill by claiming police and firefighters are more valuable to the public than nurses and teachers. That's not an exaggeration.

"They’re a special case, dealing with public safety,” Plakon told the Tallahassee Democrat last year. “The state has an interest in labor peace, when it comes to public safety.”

The Democrat also noted that, according to last year's union-enrollment statistics, no public-sector union would have passed the 50-percent-enrollment threshold. The bill would have decertified the Florida Nurses Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, for example. Had the bill applied to cops, the state's Police Benevolent Association also would have been stripped of bargaining power.

Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade, told New Times last year that Plakon's bill and public comments offended her personally.

"Scott Plakon says we aren't critical to our community," Mats said, "but this bill would hurt nurses and teachers. I beg to differ that we aren't 'critical' employees."
She said her union had no more than 14,000 members, less than half of the 30,000 total teachers in her district. Despite that fact, the rights her union fought for, such as better health-care plans, benefited all 30,000 people.

"From a national level, we see this as a direct attack on labor rights," Mats said. "So I think that it’s happening at the national level, and now it's coming all the way down to the state."
The bill, naturally, has corporate raiders and industry titans salivating. (Many of these bills are modeled after the all-out assault that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker launched against unions in his state.) Few people — except Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the lobbying arm of the Koch Brothers — expressed public support for Plakon's bill last year.

“We need to ensure that all unions are operating in the sunshine and that they garner at least a 50-percent-plus-one support to justify their claims to represent millions of Florida workers,” AFP's Florida director, Chris Hudson, announced last year. (So far, no one has explained why unions should receive more than 50 percent workforce enrollment or what public benefit that threshold serves.)

According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Plakon's campaigns have been bankrolled by a who's who of corporate enterprises: He's accepted thousands of dollars from the Walt Disney Company, Comcast, Publix, the Central Florida chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, the Florida Cable and Telecommunications Association, the state Restaurant and Lodging Association, and many other firms and industries that stand to make fistfuls of cash if the state's labor unions are squashed.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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