Some of Florida's teachers' unions may be in trouble. On March 11th, Governor Rick Scott signed into law H.B. 7055, which included a provision to allow for decertification of certain labor organizations based on the percentage of dues-paying members. The move brought objections from labor-union supporters but was hailed by the Governor and others as an effective move towards increasing transparency.
New Certification Requirements
Under the new law, which goes into effect on July 1st, each teacher's union will be required to provide the state with an annual accounting of eligible employees and dues-paying members. In cases where the participation rate is less than 50 percent, the organization will be required to petition the state for recertification.
As part of this process, the union will have to gather signatures from at least 30 percent of the bargaining unit members. A vote will then be held. If a simple majority of all eligible employees chooses to keep the union, it stays in place for another year. If not, the state can decertify the union, removing its bargaining power.
The Benefit of Increased Transparency
Increased transparency is the primary benefit of the new law. The concern is that organizations with very low participation rates may not actually be a good representation of the majority opinion. In many cases, the leadership of these small unions is inherited rather than earned.
Some supporters argue that lack of participation speaks volumes about whether employees see any actual value to the work the union is doing. However, others argue that the new rule is unfair to teachers who are unable to afford union dues but still receive the benefits of union-negotiated contracts.
Although likely not the intent of the legislation, there is some concern that de-certification could cause a nullification of existing contracts. When one party to a contract is no longer in existence, it creates a level of uncertainty. It could be argued that the contract in question is no longer valid.
To make matters worse, employees working for a district that has had their union decertified would be unable to vote for a union again for a full year. This leaves them without a representative body at a critical time.
Right to Work
Further complicating this issue is the fact that Florida is a right to work state. This means that paying dues to a union organization cannot be a condition of the right to collectively bargain. By law, Florida unions are required to provide fair representation to all members, regardless of whether they pay dues. The new law requiring that unions maintain a 50 percent dues-paying body to stay in existence may therefore constitutionally flawed.
Similar laws in the state of Wisconsin recently survived a court challenge. It's likely that the Florida law will eventually go through a legal challenge as well, and the anticipated verdict is unclear.
As unions are decertified over the next few years, you can expect it to have a major impact on contract negotiations in certain districts. For now, existing unions are seeking clarification on logistical questions and focusing on rallying membership. It's in their best interest to get it out of the way as quickly as possible so they can resume focusing on what's really important, like negotiating the coming year's contracts.