Attacking unions does not mean freedom for Florida workers | Opinion | Opportunity For All Floridians

Attacking unions does not mean freedom for Florida workers | Opinion

As a practicing attorney for 30 years, I am deeply concerned about two union-busting bills proposed bills this session. House Bill 1445 and Senate Bill 256, pose a significant threat to unions by imposing onerous and costly new rules while making it more difficult to collect dues. The right to unionize in the workplace is protected by the National Labor Relations Act and primarily by the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and assembly.

The foundation of our democracy lies in the protection and promotion of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. By standing with workers and supporting their right to organize, we not only protect their economic interests but also uphold the very principles upon which our society is built.

As Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), once stated, “We know that collective bargaining is essential to preserve our individual rights and freedom. It is the only way workers have a voice to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.” 

Unions have been instrumental in securing and protecting the freedoms of workers. Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared “Florida is a free state,” but restricting workers’ rights to unionize impedes their freedom. Moreover, these proposed bills would restrict workers’ freedoms by preventing some union members from voluntarily having their union dues deducted from their paychecks, imposing a 60% paid membership requirement, making the recertification process more difficult and generally undermining workers’ freedom to organize. As a right-to-work state, Florida should not be involved in discouraging the freedom of workers to unionize in any manner they see fit.

And yes, Florida is a right-to-work state, which means that workers are not required to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. While this may seem like a positive thing on the surface, it weakens unions’ bargaining power and makes it more difficult for workers to negotiate for better wages and working conditions. The proposed union-busting bills would exacerbate this problem by weakening the financial structure of unions, potentially costing them tens of thousands of dollars and further undermining workers’ rights. During debate on this bill on the Senate floor, state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, confirmed that an annual CPA audit would cost between $12,000 and $15,000. Gruters also pointed out that there are 137 unions in Florida with less than 100 members. Of those 137 unions, 100 have total annual budgets under $5,000. These proposed bills will bankrupt the smaller unions, but I assume that is the point.

Many have tried to spin this bill as “good for unions” and claimed it promotes “transparency, accountability and integrity.” However, the exceptions in the bill belie those assertions. The bill targets certain unions that are out of favor with the majority ruling party, while exempting police, fire and correctional officer unions. The fact that the bill creates exemptions for certain unions while punishing others shows that it has nothing to do with transparency, accountability or integrity, and everything to do with political punishment. Another handout in Florida’s pay-to-play autocracy.

Workers’ freedom to organize and collectively bargain is a fundamental right that is enshrined in Florida law. Florida Statute 447.01 states “The working person, unionist or non-unionist, must be protected.” Any attempt to undermine this right is an attack on our democracy and on the fundamental values of freedom and liberty that we hold dear. It is imperative that we stand in solidarity with all workers and support unions as a means of advocating for their rights and ensuring a brighter future for everyone. Florida may be a right-to-work state, but that does not mean that workers should be denied their right to organize and advocate for themselves. Contact your legislators to urge them to stand up for the right to organize, and to reject HB 1445. If you’re unsure about who your elected officials are, visit myfloridahouse.gov/FindYourRepresentative.

State Rep. Mike Gottlieb (D-Davie)

State Rep. Michael Gottlieb represents House District 102 in the Florida Legislature, which includes parts of Sunrise, Plantation and Davie.

This opinion piece originally appeared in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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