While the national media — well, MSNBC — has been focused on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican legislature in that state’s brazen push to strip teachers and other public employees of collective bargaining rights, much the same battle has been being fought, quietly and with little national attention, in Florida. And in Florida, the bad guys are winning.
Florida hasn’t seen the mass union protests that have taken place in Wisconsin or Ohio, although the recent Awake the State rallies in Tallahassee saw pro-union protesters outnumbering tea partyers something like 3 to 1. But the legislation being rammed through the Florida legislature by the Republican supermajority is just as toxic.
The Senate version of the union-killing Florida bill, called SB 830, will bar the state’s already weak public sector unions from collecting dues directly from their members’ paychecks. It will require the unions to get written authorization from each union member for their dues to be used for political purposes, and it will require the unions to refund the dues of any member who revoked their authorization for such political spending. In other words, the Republicans want to regulate and limit union activity under the guise of taking government out of the financial business of union activity.
Of course, not all public sector unions lean Democratic. In Florida, the law enforcement unions typically support Republicans (a big exception being last year, when the police and corrections unions supported Alex Sink for governor over the insane person who ultimately won, and who is now “getting to work” seeking to privatize the state’s prisons and mental hospitals, while firing as many corrections officers as possible.)
But most of the big public sector unions, including SEIU which represents nurses among other service workers, and the AFL-CIO, to which the state teacher’s union is affiliated, lean Democratic.
And that means, in Republican parlance, they must be gotten rid of.
One member of SEIU, named Jeanne, who happens to not be a Democrat, testified about the union-stripping bill this week. A clip:
“As a lifelong Republican, I do not see what rationale is used to support this bill. Republicans believe in limited government, individual freedom, strong families and efficiency. This bill goes against those very principles.
First, deducting from public worker’s salaries does not pose any cost to the state, so the argument that tax-payer dollars are being used to fund unions is false. You have a right to your own opinions, but not your own facts. And even if there were transactional costs associated with
the deductions, the unions have already offered to cover them on numerous occasions.
Second, it is our salary that is being deducted, and this body has no problem with deductions that go toward other expenses, such as paying for 401k’s. We work the hours and we earn the wages. If we want the dues for labor unions to be taken directly from our salaries, then we should have the right to do so. This legislature is trying to dictate how we use our salaries. Why? When a worker wants to set up a mutual fund or direct deposit account, there is no law that restricts the direct funding from a salary. What makes labor unions any different? This bill attempts to single out labor unions, and a law put on the books just to eliminate the specific practice of funding unions directly through salaries is unjust, and does not serve the values that our country or party believes in.
This bill impedes our ability to support the union, which we see as vital to protecting our rights as workers. Personally, I am scared that if this bill were to be passed, it would undermine all I have fought for to defend workers’ rights. At Oak Hill Hospital, it is my job to ensure our patients get the food and nutrients they need. While our hospital does not have a contract yet, I have seen the positive difference the union makes in people’s lives by sitting at bargaining tables with our management leaders. Unions don’t only fight for better wages for all workers, they also help train us and improve the quality of care we provide our patients. Now, by creating an obstacle for its members to pay dues, this bill is threatening the life support of the union. I want this legislature to realize that while this law may not affect me now since I belong to a private union, it undermines the ability of key sectors of our work force to unionize, and that in turn affects all of us.
By supporting this bill, this legislature is moving in the direction of weakening organizations that strengthen our families and improve the care we provide our patients. I urge you to vote no on SB 830.”
Of course, Republicans have no problem with dues being siphoned off to pay for 401ks, since those are managed by private financial firms and the titans of Wall Street. And if tomorrow, most unions began giving money mostly to Republicans, I’m quite sure the opposition from Republicans to automatic drafting of dues would magically disappear.
What’s worse, these anti-union bills are coming at the same time Citizens United is opening the way to both unlimited expenditures by corporations (and ironically, by the same unions that Republicans are seeking to hobble, effectively neutralizing the Supreme Court ruling, but only for unions)… and to workplace intimidation by employers, who can now tell their employees directly how to vote, as Koch Industries has already begun to do, and as Wal-Mart has also done.
One can only imagine the directives that will go out from the corporate headquarters of companies like Target and Whole Foods to their employees in 2012.
Following Jeanne’s testimony, three Republicans, Anitere Flores, Mike Fasano, and Thad Altman, voted against the bill, but it still passed the committee 11-9.