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Miami Dade College still deducts union dues from paychecks. Does Florida's new law allow it?

Madeline Pumariega was selected as the next president of Miami Dade College following her final interview on Tuesday, Nov. 17.
Screenshot from Miami Dade College live stream
Madeline Pumariega is the president of Miami-Dade College.

As Florida’s new public sector union law went into effect last year, government agencies across the state stopped deducting union dues directly from paychecks.

Gov. Ron DeSantis referred to the new ban on automatic deductions as “paycheck protections” for public employees.

In addition to banning automatic deductions, the law made it so that — to keep the union alive — at least 60% of eligible workers have to pay dues. Effectively overnight, it became harder to pay dues, while more employees have to pay dues to exercise the right to collectively bargain.

Tens of thousands of public sector workers in Florida have lost their union representation since the law went into effect last year.

But at least one public employer seems to be something of an anomaly.

Employees of Miami Dade College have continued to have their dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. Madeline Pumariega, the college president, acknowledged this in an interview with WLRN.

“The law does not supersede an existing contract with the union, and deducting dues is written into the contract,” said Pumariega. “As contracts expire, that stipulation will no longer be in the contracts.”

Pumariega told WLRN she did not see the decision to continue deducting dues from paychecks as an affront to the new law, but rather a specific interpretation of what the law actually means.

This interpretation makes Miami Dade College stand out among other universities and public employers.

“They’re probably not the only agency still deducting dues, but I don’t specifically know others," said Brett Schneider, a labor attorney with Boca Raton-based firm Weiss Serota Helsman. "Back in 2023 I was having conversations with public employers based on this same interpretation, but at the end of the day every single one of those employers decided to just stop deducting dues.”

READ MORE: Tens of thousands of workers in Florida have just lost their labor unions. More is coming

The question of whether the new law can effectively nullify provisions of contracts that have already been negotiated and signed is a key contention in ongoing legal disputes with unions.

When it filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Florida last May after the law went into effect, the Florida Education Association argued that it diminished “contract rights by impeding on valid binding active contracts.”

The lawsuit brought forward by the Florida Education Association is ongoing. An early effort to block the law from going into effect was shot down by a federal judge.

"Until such time as that case is litigated, it remains just an argument," said Schneider.

Violation remains an 'open question'

The vast majority of public sector employers like school districts and cities “did stop collecting dues” after the new law went into effect, said Karen Morinelli, an office managing shareholder at Tampa-based law firm Ogletree Deakins, who works on Florida labor law.

At the same time, Morinelli said it has been an “open question” if continuing to deduct dues under active contracts is a violation of the new labor law.

“The argument is that they had a binding contract, so it would be a violation of basic Florida contract law if they violated the contract,” said Morinelli.

To her knowledge, no agency or office in the state of Florida has specified if Florida contract law or the new labor law should be given priority. During discussions with state regulators last year, Morinelli said "numerous conflicts of both federal and state law" were raised by unions and government officials.

But she is not aware of any public employers who have been slapped on the wrist for violating the labor law on the grounds of deducting dues from paychecks, or if other public employers have continued to do so.

“I don’t know if the [Public Employee Relations Commission] or the Governor's Office or Attorney General’s office has actually followed up with that and said that they were not following the law. I have not to date heard or any actions based on that,” said Morinelli.

The reality is that public employee unions across the state have had to mount campaigns to shift their members to another dues payment system in an effort to follow the new law. Even United Faculty of Miami Dade College, the union at Miami Dade College, has begun moving members to a different payment system, even as dues continue to be deducted to paychecks.

Public school teachers in Miami-Dade mounted a massive campaign to switch their members to a different payment system while simultaneously trying to boost their membership numbers. That union, United Teachers of Dade, is awaiting a recertification election that will keep it active, after it barely failed to reach the new 60 percent threshold.

As for Miami-Dade College, Pumariega said any disputes about the legality of continuing to deduct dues will soon be moot. Faculty who want to stop paying dues through their paychecks can simply ask to stop payments.

The labor contract with Miami Dade College faculty expires this year, and a new contract is already being negotiated, she said. The new contract whenever it is approved, will not allow for automatic dues deductions.

“We will of course be abiding by the law,” she said.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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