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Union Deductions Bill Sparks Fight In Florida Legislature

Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, filed a proposal Jan. 8, 2021, to establish an Office of Resiliency.
Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, filed a proposal Jan. 8, 2021, to establish an Office of Resiliency.

TALLAHASSEE --- Sen. Ray Rodrigues says the bill is about making sure workers have the final say about money they have earned. Critics say it is about “union busting.”

But a Senate committee Wednesday approved a bill that could lead to a battle during the upcoming legislative session about unions that represent teachers, firefighters, law-enforcement officers and other public employees.

The bill (SB 78), sponsored by Rodrigues, an Estero Republican who chairs the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee, would affect the process of deducting union dues from employee paychecks.

For example, the bill would add a new step in which government employers would have to confirm with workers that they want dues taken out of their pay before the deductions could start. That would be in addition to a current process of union bargaining agents submitting written requests to begin deductions.

Rodrigues, who is sponsoring the bill, said it is about “the deduction of pay of public employees and whether that deduction should occur before the employee has expressly authorized it.”

“The employee who earns the money should be the person and final arbiter who makes the decision on how those funds are spent,” he said.

But Democratic lawmakers and union representatives criticized the proposal, saying the additional requirements are not necessary and are an attempt to make it harder to join unions.

“This bill is just another attempt at union busting, and it’s a solution in search of a problem, when there is no problem,” said Sen. Victor Torres, an Orlando Democrat who serves on the committee.

The proposal is filed for consideration during the legislative session that will start March 2 and is drawing attention from a variety of business and labor groups.

Groups that expressed support during Wednesday’s meeting included Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity. Groups opposing the bill included the Florida AFL-CIO, the Florida Education Association, the United Faculty of Florida, the Florida Professional Firefighters and the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

The Republican-dominated Legislature has taken up issues in recent years that have drawn fierce opposition from unions.

During the 2020 session, the House approved a bill that mirrored Rodrigues’ new proposal. The Senate did not take up the issue during the 2020 session, but Rodrigues was elected to the Senate in November after serving in the House.

Along with the issue about employers confirming that workers want dues deducted from their pay, the bill also would add a time limit on the authorizations. Under the proposal, the workers’ approval of deductions would continue until new collective bargaining agreements are reached or three years after the deductions begin, whichever is earlier.

Jim Saunders / News Service of Florida
Tom Urban/News Service of Florida