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Florida's biggest teachers union could lose its contract after failing to get enough paying members

Karla Hernandez-Mats
Daniel Rivero
/
WLRN
United Teachers of Dade faces a potential decertification under a new state law, after it failed to get 60% of its members to pay dues.

The state’s largest teachers union is facing possible decertification after it failed to get at least 60% of its members to pay dues. That’s the requirement that many public unions now face in Florida after a new law passed earlier this year.

United Teachers of Dade announced this week that its members failed to meet that requirement — and some 30,000 union members could ultimately be left without representation as a result.

For now, UTD’s contract remains in effect, says union President Karla Hernandez-Mats.

“We want our members to know that the district has confirmed that our UTD contract will stay in place, while we undergo a mandatory certification election,” Hernandez-Mats said at a Miami-Dade School Board meeting on Wednesday.

The next step in the state’s newly-revamped recertification process is for UTD to demonstrate that 30% of its members want a union.

“We know that we must continue to organize to be well over 60% for the protection of our profession,” Hernandez-Mats said. “The next step is to initiate the process of collecting showing of interest cards from at least 30% of our bargaining unit.”

After that, UTD would petition the state’s Public Employees Relations Commission to allow members to hold a recertification vote. Unions across the state have been scrambling to boost their rolls of paying members, after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 256 into law in May, Hernandez-Mats called the measure “onerous” and “anti-union”.

READ MORE: As Florida’s new union law goes into effect, it’s ‘do or die’ time for labor

The new law increases the proportion of dues-paying members that are required in order for a union to maintain its certification — while also making it harder for workers to pay those dues.

The law prohibits members of many public unions from having their employers automatically deduct their dues from their paychecks — a frequent practice not only for union dues but also for retirement funds and health insurance costs.

Notably, unions representing law enforcement officers, correctional officers, or firefighters are exempt from the provisions of SB 256. The state’s first responders’ associations have endorsed DeSantis, while he’s positioned teachers’ unions as one of his prime political enemies.

“These are political organizations that are not looking out for the interests of parents or the interests of students,” DeSantis said at a bill signing event.

Hernandez-Mats was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in 2020, campaigning with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist against DeSantis. She also serves as a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers.

UTD officials, who say they’re focused on doing the work to maintain the certification of the state’s largest teachers union, are warning that the quality of Miami-Dade County Public Schools would suffer if they lose their contract.

Earlier this year, UTD secured raises of up to 10% for its teachers, raising the county’s starting pay for educators to $52,470.

And earlier this month, the Florida Department of Education announced MDCPS had maintained its grade as an A-rated district — even as the state moved to a new standardized testing system and continues to grapple with pandemic-related learning loss.

“It is imperative that we maintain a contract in this district if we are going to maintain the quality of education that we desire and deserve — and our students certainly deserve,” said UTD First Vice President Antonio White. “An at-will workforce in public education will not achieve the results that are necessary for the children we serve.”

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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