Teachers unions said Wednesday that they are filing a lawsuit in federal court to stop Florida’s new anti-union law from taking effect, arguing that it violates their constitutional rights.
The legislation, known as Senate Bill 256, bars most unions representing government employees from receiving dues directly from workers’ paychecks. It also requires that those unions maintain at least 60% membership in their workplaces to avoid being “decertified” and losing their collective bargaining agreements.
Labor groups have decried the legislation as a political attack by Republican legislators and Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to announce a run for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. Unions say the law will make it more difficult for them to collect dues, and will add new accounting requirements that smaller affiliates will find burdensome.
“Governor DeSantis made it clear before the legislative session started [that] he was coming after teachers, staff and professors in Florida.”
– Andrew Spar, president, Florida Education Association
In crafting the legislation, Republicans added a carve-out for unions representing police, firefighters and corrections officers, so that those groups will not be subject to the new regulations. Those unions happen to lean more conservative than the ones targeted by the bill ― i.e., unions for schoolteachers, academics, nurses, sanitation workers and other municipal employees.
Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, argued Wednesday that the law violates workers’ rights to free speech and free association by forbidding them from paying dues how they choose. He said the law amounts to retaliation against teachers unions, and compared it to DeSantis’ ongoing war against Disney.
“We maintain this law is unconstitutional on its face, irrespective of any bad motives on the part of the governor,” Spar said. “However, we do believe there are bad motives. The governor is using this legislation to retaliate against his critics.”
Spar said the goal of the law is to “take away the ability of educators to speak out.”
“Governor DeSantis made it clear before the legislative session started [that] he was coming after teachers, staff and professors in Florida,” he said.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said DeSantis is singling out teachers for retribution.
“He’s acting more like a dictator in Hungary or Cuba, pretending that he’s not,” Weingarten said. “That’s propaganda.”
The lawsuit was announced a day after DeSantis signed the bill into law, claiming on Tuesday that it will act as “paycheck protection” for teachers. He argued that teachers feel “pressured” to contribute union dues, even though public-sector workers in Florida, like throughout the country, do not have to pay any dues if they don’t want to.
If unions can’t receive dues directly from workers’ paychecks, they will have to set up alternative collection methods, like getting workers signed up for electronic bank transfers. The law does not affect paycheck deductions for other routine fees, like health care or gym memberships.
DeSantis did not address other significant aspects of the legislation, like the fact that it affects other public-sector workers while exempting one of his political allies, police unions. The governor has sought to portray himself as tough on crime, recently leaving the state to speak to police unions in New York and Chicago.
“He’s acting more like a dictator in Hungary or Cuba, pretending that he’s not. That’s propaganda.”
– Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers
Union leaders previously told HuffPost they view the GOP’s new anti-union law as part of DeSantis’ broader, so-called “anti-woke” education agenda in Florida. The governor has moved to cut diversity efforts, ban teaching about gender identity and authorize parents to sue schools under a “parental rights” initiative. Labor leaders say teachers unions have wound up in the governor’s crosshairs because they are criticizing such maneuvers.
But the law also stands to benefit Republicans politically over the long term if it ends up reducing membership in public-sector unions, most of which are more likely to support Democratic candidates. Attacks on unions for government employees has helped raise the profile of other Republicans, such as former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, both of whom made unsuccessful runs for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.
Florida is not the first state where Republicans have tried to weaken teachers unions by banning paycheck dues deduction. Similar laws are already on the books in Alabama, Michigan and Wisconsin. A federal judge recently blocked such a statute from going into effect in Indiana, where teachers unions have filed a lawsuit similar to the one just announced in Florida.