TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In a blow to public employee unions, the Republican-controlled Florida House passed a bill Friday that would ban payroll deductions of dues and require labor organizations to get individual members’ OK before using their payments for political purposes.
The Florida legislation, which still needs Senate approval, is part of a Republican push in several states to curtail the power of public-sector unions that generally support Democratic candidates. The efforts follow GOP election gains in November.
Republicans insisted in floor debate that the bill’s intent is not to harm unions but to empower public employees by giving them more control over how their dues are spent and to separate government from politics.
“We don’t need to be involved in the collections of union dues, which then can be used for partisan political activity,” said Rep. Chris Dorworth, a Lake Mary Republican who sponsored the bill. “It affords members of labor unions the right to determine whether or not they want to be part of the political agenda of the union.”
Democrats responded that the legislation is about union-busting, class warfare and winning elections.
“What’s the real reason for this bill?” asked House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders of Key West. “Two words: political payback.”
Union leaders pointed out that even the House staff analysis says the bill likely would make it more difficult for unions to collect dues for political and other purposes.
“The lawmakers who voted for this bill have signaled their desire to use the power of government to single out and attack the hard-working men and women who serve Florida in public employment,” said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union. “It’s simply un-American.”
Rich Templin, legislative and political director of the Florida AFL-CIO, said unions are unfairly being singled out because the legislation doesn’t affect payroll deductions for about 300 other entities such as charities and insurance companies. Some of these groups make political contributions that dwarf those of organized labor, he said.
“This isn’t just about elections,” Templin added. “This is about keeping working people out of the (legislative) process because if there’s not a strong organization with the resources necessary, the Chamber of Commerce and the other special-interest groups are the only ones here.”
Unions have been in the forefront of opposition to other high-profile GOP-sponsored legislation. These include bills that would reduce benefits for unemployed workers and a new law, signed Thursday by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, that links teacher merit pay to student test scores and eliminates tenure for new hires.
The dues bill passed 73-40 with just three Republicans – Reps. Ed Hooper of Clearwater, Ana Rivas Logan of Miami and Mike Weinstein of Jacksonville – joining all Democrats in opposition. A fourth Republican, Rep. Marti Coley of Marianna, added her negative vote after the roll call.
In the Senate, a similar bill (SB 830) narrowly won approval by a single vote in one committee and is awaiting action by two more panels.
House Republicans argued that unions don’t need payroll deductions because new technology gives them other ways to collect dues, such as internet links and direct bank deposits.
“A 14-year-old could come up with a system in less than 10 minutes that could make it probably easier and less restrictive and less obstructive as having government do this job for our friends in unions,” said Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami.
Democrats said union members have not asked for the ability to restrict how their dues are used. They also argued workers already have the power to stop supporting political activities by quitting their unions at any time without losing their jobs, a right guaranteed by existing law.
“Please don’t put lipstick on this elephant,” said Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa. “This bill is about one thing. It’s about silencing the voices of working men and women.”Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/03/25/2133239/florida-house-taking-up-bill-to.html#ixzz1INjIA6Pd