Florida Republican Sen. Blaise Ingoglia files bill targeting some public sector unions | Florida News | Orlando

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State Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill

A Republican senator on Tuesday introduced a bill that takes aim at Florida’s public sector unions.

Senate Bill 256, filed by Sen. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill, targets union staffer salaries and automatic union dues deduction, among other things.

The “public sector” refers to a wide range of job classifications, from bus drivers to garbage collectors, sanitation workers, cafeteria workers, librarians and more. Many of these jobs are low-income and held by people of color. Like a proposal that died with fierce opposition last year, SB 256 creates exemptions for unions representing cops, firefighters and correctional officers — all male-dominated fields, and all unions that regularly endorse Republicans for office. 

Some union leaders are interpreting it as a targeted attack.

“SB256 is aimed at silencing teachers, staff and professors in Florida,” wrote Andrew Spar, president of the statewide teachers union, in a tweet Tuesday night. “Why? Because we speak up for our kids & anyone who speaks up, becomes a target of @GovRonDeSantis. Just like Disney, College Board and so many others.”

If passed, SB 256 would prevent unionized public sector workers from having union dues deducted automatically from their paychecks. This would complicate a process that’s already kneecapped by Florida’s status as a right-to-work state, which allows a Florida worker to be covered by a union contract without being an official dues-paying member.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who shared a similar anti-union proposal in January specifically targeting teachers’ unions, has characterized this ban on automatic dues dedication as “paycheck protection” for a workforce that’s underpaid, undervalued and suffering low morale from “anti-woke” educational policies he himself signed into law.

But bills that could lead to mass decertification of unions threaten the few benefits public sector workers already have achieved through union contracts.

Last year, union leaders said a similar proposal would have created a logistical nightmare for unions, describing that iteration as “union-busting” on its face.

“It would have increased the uncertainty in their lives,” Rich Templin, director of politics and policy for the Florida AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor federation, told WMNF Radio last year after a similar bill died. “It would have made it very difficult for them to either join, or, if they’re already members, remain in their union.”

In 2021, about 237,000 public sector workers in Florida were union members, and 276,737 were covered by a union contract. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Florida is home to about 414,000 union members, all in all, as of 2022, including those who work in the private sector. 

The proposal this year from Sen. Ingoglia would also require that unions maintain a membership of 60% of workers eligible for union representation. Dipping below that number could lead to decertification, or a union’s dissolution — which would potentially threaten the benefits afforded to union members through their contracts. Florida’s teachers unions are already required to meet a 50% membership threshold, thanks to a bill passed in 2018 that was likened to former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s union-crushing Act 10 of 2011, spuriously termed Wisconsin’s “Budget Repair Bill.”

That bill, containing similar provisions to the new anti-union bill in Florida, effectively pummeled Wisconsin’s public sector unions, including those representing graduate-student teaching assistants, K-12 teachers, public-works employees and others.

It didn’t come without a fight. The proposal spurred more than 100,000 Wisconsin workers, community members and allies — including celebrity figures such as filmmaker Michael Moore, actress Susan Sarandon and musician Tom Morello — to pack the streets for weeks in what became known as the “Wisconsin Uprising.” 

As journalist and author John Nichols wrote in his book, Uprising, 14 Democratic senators at the time actually fled the state for neighboring Illinois for three weeks, in order to deny Walker and his Republican allies the quorum needed to pass the anti-labor law. 

But Republicans found a way to pass it anyway. 

The 14 Democrats, one of whom was seven months pregnant at the time, were nonetheless welcomed back as heroes by constituents, according to Nichols.

After just one year of that law’s implementation in Wisconsin, the biggest union in the state saw a 60% drop in membership. This year, state lawmakers in Utah (another right-to-work state) are also reportedly coming after the public sector unions.

“This doesn’t come as a surprise,” Dr. Robert Cassanello, a history professor at the University of Central Florida and president of his faculty union, said Wednesday morning of the Florida bill. Speaking to Orlando Weekly over the phone, Cassanello said it does feel like a targeted attack on higher education faculty. 

“We’ve seen, in the past two and a half years or so, state government just sort of pound faculty,” said Cassanello. “We’re sort of a scapegoat for demagogues in Tallahassee, quite frankly. I think this bill, which is squarely a union-busting bill, continues that tradition.”

This latest attempt to crush Florida’s public sector unions isn’t new. But it does come on the heels of other anti-worker legislation in Florida backed by corporate interests, such as legislation that’d prevent minor league baseball players from being paid minimum wage.

The bill targeting public sector unions was filed just before 5 p.m, the same day Ingoglia — a former state representative who chaired the Republican Party of Florida from 2015 to 2019 — introduced a proposal to “cancel” the state’s Democratic Party

Also on the same day, members of the U.S. Congress reintroduced the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a federal bill that would enhance workers’ ability to organize and strengthen enforcement of existing labor law to better hold employers accountable for illegal union-busting tactics, such as firing pro-union workers during union drives. The bill was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott, Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Similar legislation in Florida to crush public sector unions has been proposed year after year, without success. But a wave of unionization efforts over the last year (including here in Orlando) has business owners and their lobbyists running scared. 

Republicans now have a supermajority in the state legislature, which means unions will need the support of pro-union Republican lawmakers to thwart the bill from achieving the success that’s eluded similar proposals in the past.

Are you a public sector worker in Florida who has thoughts about this bill (in favor or against)? Let us know! You can send those over to reporter McKenna Schueler at [email protected]

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