Caitlyn Acosta

English teacher Holly Van Tassel explains to science teacher Terrence Narinesingh how to sign up for eDues. Due to new laws restricting public union dues from being collected from employee paychecks, all MSD teachers that are members of the Broward Teachers Union had to set up automatic payments from their bank accounts to pay their future dues.

Florida law creates new requirements for public sector labor unions

This year, a new law—SB 256—was introduced to the Florida Senate. Having now been signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 9, the law affects the payment of union dues and increases the number of dues paying members unions are required to have. 

This new piece of legislation comes five years after a similar one, signed into law by former Florida Gov. Rick Scott in 2018. This law—HB 7055—was widely controversial among public sector employees at the time, having imposed the previous 50% membership threshold of union membership. This means that out of all of the employees eligible to be a part of a union, 50% had to be dues paying members of that union in order for it to maintain formal union recognition.

However, the new law, called for by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is proving even more contentious than its predecessor. Building upon the provisions enacted by Scott, this law increases the membership threshold by an additional 10% and implements other requirements for public sector labor unions and their members. Most affected will be teachers’ unions and nurses’ unions.

Filed by Republican state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, this law, among other things, prohibits the automatic deduction of union dues from a public employee’s paycheck. This means that union members have to find another way to pay their dues, whether that be by check or an online payment method. 

This stipulation was justified on the grounds that it holds union bosses accountable and encourages further conversation between union members and their representatives.

“One of the ideas here is to make sure that the union members are getting the best possible union representation as possible,” Ingoglia said at a senate committee meeting on March 7. “And one of that is to make sure that they’re having face-to-face conversations with their union representatives.” 

However, this new limitation does not apply to unions representing law enforcement officers, correctional officers, probation officers or firefighters. This exemption applies to the rest of the law’s provisions as well. The reasoning behind their inclusion was that these jobs involve long hours of work, protecting the public. 

“[These exemptions were included] because these brave heroes often work second and third shifts while risking their lives to save others,” Ingoglia said to Orlando Weekly. “I cannot in good conscience ask them, after a 14-hour shift with no sleep, to meet with union reps to give them their check.” 

The implications of this statement proved off-putting to some, as they feel it suggests that only these forms of employment fit the criteria of working long hours and saving lives. For instance, resident physicians work an average of 80 hours per week and can be scheduled for shifts entailing up to 24 hours of continuous work, also saving lives, yet are not included in the exemption.

Furthermore, opposers of this law often claim that this restriction bestows an unnecessary inconvenience upon public sector employees, playing into anti-union ideals and targeting teachers and health care workers specifically.

Due to fear of retribution, teacher Ava Smith* asked to remain anonymous. 

“I am very unhappy about this,”  Smith* said. “Having our union dues come out of our paychecks made it so much easier to sign up to be a part of a union. I also liked it better because I didn’t have to share my banking information with anyone else, and when my paycheck was deposited, it was my paycheck in full. It was simple and easy. All this does is make it more difficult for people, which is exactly what they are going for, and hoping that teachers won’t be part of a union.” 

Still, others find that it is not as troubling a restriction as it has been made out to be by SB 256 critics. 

“As a teacher, I do believe unions are important; however, how the dues are paid is not a major deal,” personal finance teacher Michael Mauro said. “As responsible adults and as a personal finance teacher, we are all responsible for our bills and not everything is automated or convenient, and I believe this is a situation that can easily be resolved through an annual or semi-annual payment.” 

Another stipulation of the law includes raising unions’ membership threshold to 60%—10% higher than the 50% threshold set by Rick Scott in 2018. This means that if the threshold is not met, a union will be decertified and lose its ability to represent union members, such as teachers, and bargain on their behalf. 

This requirement in particular has inspired much controversy as a 60% threshold will prove difficult to attain for many unions in the state. In fact, it has been determined that nearly two-thirds of Florida’s teachers’ unions currently fail to meet this number, a revelation that has rubbed some people the wrong way. 

“Sixty percent is a rather large ask, as a lot of teachers do struggle financially and may only choose not to be union members due to the cost associated with it,” Mauro said. “I feel it would only be supporting teachers if we were granted the ability to negotiate contracts for ourselves… However, by raising the requirement to 60%, I do believe it leans more towards a union bust than a supportive bill.” 

The term “union-busting” refers to anything that tries to interfere with or prevent the formation of trade unions and is a word that has been ascribed to the law by many of its critics. With this in mind, it is a common claim of opposers that many of the law’s stipulations target public sector labor unions, particularly teachers’ unions, and are working to limit their power and restrict their collective bargaining abilities. 

“There is no way [this is] supportive of teachers,” Smith* said. “The union is there to help teachers, give them representation and make sure that the rules are followed by schools and supervisors. The part about having the membership threshold is put in specifically to destroy the union.” 

On May 5, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School union stewards Melissa Falkowski and Holly Van Tassel-Schuster visited teachers during the school day to assist MSD union members with eDues enrollment, the new online dues system for members of the Broward Teachers Union.

In response to the passing of SB 256, the Florida Education Association and three affiliated unions have filed a federal lawsuit. Suing on the grounds of this law infringing upon the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of educators, these organizations are looking to prevent the enforcement and implementation of SB 256’s provisions.

Regardless, this law is still defended by supporters who assert that it benefits the same people critics say it harms. This divide ultimately leaves many unsure of the law’s intentions. However, regardless of the purpose with which it was created, its effects remain the same and the impacts the law has on unions and union members, positive or negative, will only persist in political significance.

*Names indicated were changed to protect the staffs’ anonymity 

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