The Florida Legislature Wednesday approved a bill that, if signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, will help protect workers from predatory union practices. Florida Senate Bill 256 is a positive step toward getting government out of the practice of subsidizing unions.
Florida’s public employers are frequently required to deduct union dues from employee paychecks, effectively acting as the bill collector for unions. These deductions are processed by government employees, even though subsidizing dues deductions does not benefit the average taxpayer. At its heart, deducting union dues is little more than a public subsidy for unions.
SB 256 puts an end to taxpayer-supported dues deductions. If the bill were to become law, most public employers would no longer be permitted to deduct union dues. Unions would then become responsible for collecting their own membership dues, much like any other private association. And while this is a noteworthy goal on its own, SB 256 goes further to protect Floridians.
The bill also takes steps to ensure that unions represent employees’ interests, rather than the interests of their leaders. SB 256 requires unions to tell the state how many members they have. It also requires them to report how many employees are within their bargaining units. Finally any union that does not have the support of 60% of the employees it represents must reapply for the chance to serve as those employees’ exclusive bargaining representative. This requirement ensures that a large portion of employees in a bargaining unit want union representation.
SB 256 also offers meaningful transparency requirements designed to ensure employees can make an informed choice about whether to join a union. Employees who are faced with the choice of union membership will now receive information about initiation fees and monthly dues, as well as information about the compensation of the union’s top officers. Even more importantly, employees will be informed of their rights under the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME.
In Janus, the Supreme Court recognized that everything a public sector union does, even bargaining, is inherently political. This is because negotiating wages and other terms and conditions of employment sets government policy. As a result of the Janus ruling, public sector workers cannot be forced to pay to support the union’s political speech. This means that public sector employees can’t be forced to join a union. They also can’t be forced to pay agency fees.
Employees who receive a notice about their rights under Janus will be able to make a fully informed, voluntary decision about union membership. If they wish to join a union, they remain free to do so, but they will have a fuller understanding of their rights and obligations. Employees who do not wish to join a union, meanwhile, will be informed of their constitutional right to refrain from membership. With this notice in hand, all employees, regardless of their feelings on unions, can make a knowing choice about representation in their workplace.
The bill also offers greater transparency into union business. If the bill is adopted, unions would be required to provide an annual financial statement to their members, including information that breaks down revenue, expenditures and the cost of union membership. This will ensure that union members have the opportunity to review a union’s spending priorities and evaluate whether that union is effectively representing employees’ interests.
SB 256 also prevents employees from being trapped into paying a union after they choose to resign membership. Some unions have attempted to limit employees by saying they can resign their membership only during specific times of the year — sometimes as little as a few weeks. This, in turn, can lead to employees being forced to pay for inherently political activity despite their wishes. SB 256 forbids this restrictive practice, allowing employees to opt out of membership at any time.
The Mackinac Center, and its Workers for Opportunity project, have long supported reforms like these that will help workers make an informed, voluntary choice about whether to financially support a union. States looking to strengthen protections for workers would do well to follow Florida’s example by enacting laws that help workers to understand and exercise their rights.
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