ORLANDO, FLORIDA — Governor Ron DeSantis continued his battle against the progressive influence of teachers’ unions by previewing a bill on Monday that would potentially mitigate their power. Speaking to supporters of his educational agenda at a school board retreat, DeSantis intimated that he expects the legislature to pass a “paycheck protection” bill in the upcoming session.
MORE MONEY FOR TEACHERS
After suggesting that teachers can expect “probably the biggest [pay] increase for teachers that we’ve ever done in Florida in this coming legislative session,” DeSantis said the new legislation, if passed, would help ensure that state funding for teacher pay will not be siphoned off by the unions.
“That fact that you’re also doing stuff like this paycheck protection, it’s more of a guarantee that that money is going to actually go to those teachers,” he said. “It’s not going to be frittered away by interest groups who get involved in the school system.”
Like taxes and insurance, union dues are automatically deducted from paychecks for members. Some teachers may not pay close enough attention to realize the money they could keep if they opted out of the union. By requiring the teachers to actually write the checks for union membership themselves, the presumption is that teachers would give more consideration to the commitment of their money and perhaps be less willing to surrender it to the union.
THIRD TIME’S A CHARM?
According to Florida Politics, similar bills failed to make it to the governor’s desk in 2021 and 2022 after Senate President Kathleen Passidomo – who was committee chair at the time – declined to take them up.
The more recent HB 1197 from the 2022 session stated the following: “an employee organization that has been certified as a bargaining agent may not have its dues and uniform assessments deducted and collected by the employer from the salaries of those employees in the unit. Public employees may pay their dues and uniform assessments directly to the employee organization that has been certified as their bargaining agent.”
OPTING OUT OF UNION MEMBERSHIP
Opponents of the previous bills pointed out that teachers already have the ability to opt out – a point that the governor drove home on Monday.
“First of all, [as a teacher] you do not have to join [a] teachers union. But if you do, the government, we don’t want to play a role in deducting anybody’s money. So you write every month for the dues and you do it that way, and that maximizes freedom to choose,” DeSantis said. “I think it will be a more accurate reflection of who actually wants to be a part of this or not.”
If the legislation were to significantly reduce membership, the unions might lose some of their political power.
“If they don’t have a majority that are actually signing up to pay dues, it should be decertified,” DeSantis added. “You shouldn’t be able to continue as a zombie organization that doesn’t have the support of the people you are supposedly negotiating for.”
FLORIDA’S LARGEST TEACHERS’ UNION
According to their website, the Florida Education Association (FEA) is the state’s largest association of professional employees and the largest labor union in the Southeast, with over 150,000 members. FEA unions represent every category of public-school employment in the state including aspiring educators, PreK-12 teachers and education staff professionals, graduate assistants, higher education faculty and retired educators.
FEA is affiliated with both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), which collectively have over four million members. The NEA website lists five benefits unions provide, including collective bargaining, safety in classrooms and teacher pay. The fifth listed reason is “Support the fight for social justice and racial equity.”
Teachers’ unions have long been criticized for placing the interests of their members ahead of students. The Foundation for Economic Education’s (FEE) Jack Elbaum argued in 2020 that this mindset was on full display as unions pushed for school closures despite the negative impact these had on students, who were understood to have a near-zero death rate from COVID.
Elbaum referenced Thomas Sowell’s book Charter Schools and Their Enemies, which details the success of charter schools in contrast with traditional public schools. Sowell previously pointed out that it is in the best interest of the unions and union leaders to use state funding increases to create more jobs that bring in more dues, rather than simply increasing teacher pay. Elbaum echoes Sowell’s argument that the unions can lower the quality of public education by protecting incompetent teachers who deserve to be fired.
“In New York City, it takes an average of 830 days and $313,000 to fire a single incompetent teacher, largely due to policy negotiated by teachers’ unions,” Elbaum wrote. “In charter schools, teachers are generally not unionized, and they can be fired for incompetence much more easily.”