TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — The Florida Legislature passed a new bill on Wednesday that will make teachers union members more aware of how their dues are spent. The bill will become a law upon receiving Governor Ron DeSantis’ signature.
INCREASING TRANSPARENCY – FOR SOME UNIONS
SB 256 prohibits public-employee unions from deducting dues from members’ paychecks, requiring them to instead pay those dues separately. The goal is presumably to create more awareness of the money the member is choosing to surrender. Certain unions are exempt from these requirements, including those that represent police officers and firefighters.
“This bill gives Florida teachers a voice and a choice,” Vinnie Vernuccio, Senior Labor Policy Advisor at the Institute for the American Worker, said in a statement. “Teachers and other public workers will know their rights. They’ll know exactly how much union membership costs them each year. And they’ll know that, if their union isn’t serving them, they can do something about it.”
The governor previewed the legislation during a December 2022 meeting with supporters of his education agenda, branding the proposal “paycheck protection.”
The Florida Education Association (FEA) – the state’s largest teachers’ union – accused DeSantis of trying to “silence educators’ voices” with the bill.
The bill received opposition from Democrats and even some Republicans in both the House and Senate.
“The only intent of the bill is to kill off the [teacher] unions here in Florida,” Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) said of the proposal last month.
WHERE IS ALL THAT MONEY GOING?
The bill also requires unions to inform members how much money their five highest-paid employees make each year. In 2020, the FEA paid those employees over $1.5 million, including nearly $400,000 to the FEA president. At the same time, the FEA routinely criticizes the state for underpaying teachers.
A new report from the Americans for Fair Treatment details how the FEA allocates its $76 million budget. The association enjoyed a “steady increase in revenue between 2019 and 2021. This increase did not, however, boost worker representation,” a Workers for Opportunity summary by Taylor Anderson noted.
The summary points to $5 million spent on political activities and lobbying, most of which goes to Democrats. Over 90 percent of endorsements went to Democrat candidates, $85,000 went directly to the Florida Democratic Party and close to $1 million went to political action committees that gave heavily to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
“The association also paid half its revenue to affiliated unions, such as the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which are known for funding left-leaning political causes,” Anderson writes. “A 2022 analysis found that the National Education Association spent twice as much on politics as it did on members.”