Union-Busting Bill Would Cripple Miami Teachers While Leaving Police, Firefighters Untouched

Union-Busting Bill Would Cripple Miami Teachers While Leaving Police, Firefighters Untouched
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
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According to Longwood state Rep. Scott Plakon, Florida's firefighters, cops, and corrections officers are a "special" type of public servants, the sort that are integral to a functioning democracy.

The state's teachers and nurses? Not so much.

Earlier this month, Plakon filed a bill that, if enacted, would strip a union of its collective bargaining power if it can't get more than 50 percent of its employees to enroll. Without bargaining power, a union can't fight for better salaries, safety protections, or health-care benefits for its workers. This is the entire point of unions.

But the bill, HB 11, wouldn't cripple every union in the state — just the ones that typically support Democrats. Plakon's bill just so happens to carve out exceptions for firefighters, prison guards, and law enforcement officers.

Karla Hernandez Mats, the president of United Teachers of Dade (UTD), Miami's public teacher union, tells New Times the bill would leave the teachers' union powerless. She says UTD currently sits below the 50 percent threshold.

"Scott Plakon says we aren't critical to our community," Mats says, "but this bill would hurt nurses and teachers. I beg to differ that we aren't 'critical' employees."

Mats says UTD has 13,000 to 14,000 members — just below half of the 30,000 teachers in the district. If the bill passes, Mats says, UTD would lose the ability to fight for benefits for all 30,000 of those teachers throughout the district. She says the union fights for both instructors (in terms of salaries and health benefits) and students too.

"A lot of our policy work centers around testing and how it's gone too far, too fast," Mays says. "We're working to not be a county that's testing our kids to the point of failure."

Mats says she's received messages from folks running local law enforcement unions who say this bill has also upset local cops.

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

Unions across Florida are now mounting a public-relations blitz against the bill and its Senate counterpart, SB 1292. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has made the bill a "priority" in his chamber of the Legislature, but the bill faces an uphill battle in the state Senate, where it would need to pass through a series of Democrat-dominated committees.

But that fact hasn't swayed Mats from speaking out against the measure. She says she wants to remind people that public-school teachers aren't the money-sucking leeches that lawmakers like Plakon make them out to be. Plakon's tactics are similar to those that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker instituted in 2011 via the now-infamous Act 10, a union-busting measure that attacked bargaining rights for unions — except those of cops and firefighters.

In the years since, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported in 2016 that Wisconsin unions had lost more members compared to unions in every other U.S. state.

Law enforcement unions had initially supported Walker — until he eventually pitched expanding Act 10's provisions to the very cops who had backed his gubernatorial run. That didn't go over so well: The Wisconsin Professional Police Association called the governor's move in 2013 "disappointing," and the proposal was eventually shot down.

Though Walker's measures have been deeply unpopular, the governor is consulting with the Trump administration about whether to expand Act 10 nationally.

"This is part of a strategy they have to attack the unions: Divide and conquer," Mats says. "This is something the state has been wanting to do for a while. But with the current political climate, the stars have aligned, and they're trying to make good on their intention of taking away public-sector workers' benefits and health care."

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