Tampa Bay unions protest proposed Florida bill that would make it more difficult for unions to exist

Naturally, there's an exception for police and fire unions.

click to enlarge Union representatives speak out in front of Hillsborough County Center. - Justin Garcia
Justin Garcia
Union representatives speak out in front of Hillsborough County Center.

Representatives from several local unions held a press conference today in front of the Hillsborough County Center in Downtown Tampa to condemn Florida legislation that could damage union membership across the state.

In January, Republican Rep. Scott Plakon filed HB 1197, which targets public-employee unions and seeks to make unions with membership at less than 50% seek recertification.  The legislation could also prevent workers from having union dues deducted from their regular paychecks, and instead require to change their payments to the unions directly.

These two measures combined could create a major logistical burden for unions, making union status and membership more difficult to maintain. And now, the legislation is being rushed through Tallahassee for potential approval.

The West Central Florida Labor Council says that despite HB 1197 not being heard in any committees during the previous eight weeks of Legislative Session, the Florida Senate is attempting to hurry the bill to the floor. The bill is expected to be heard this Tuesday in the Senate Rules Committee and then move quickly to the Senate floor.

Hundreds of union members are anticipated to show up to protest the bill in Tallahassee, and more than 50 are headed up from the Tampa area tonight to be prepared for the legislation at it is brought before Senate.

 "Our public workers, our teachers, our support professionals, have been the heroes of this pandemic, " Rob Kriete, President of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, said during the conference. "We are calling on all lawmakers in Florida to give them the respect and the support that they deserve, and not government harassment. They've been doing the hard work. They've been meeting the needs of our students and our communities, and we ask them to continue to respect their constitutional rights."

Under the bill, unions with membership less than half of the eligible employees at an organization would have to petition the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) for recertification, and forms of dues payment would have to be completely revamped, which could create a logistical nightmare for unions in Florida.

But while HB 1197 would apply to most union workers, the legislation purposefully leaves law-enforcement and firefighter unions from being affected.

Steve Simon, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1464 told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that the bill unfairly targets workers in his union, which is the exclusive bargaining representative for City of Tampa government employees. 

"We're constantly working, 24/7. We never shut down," Simon said. "And because of that, we've been deemed essential workers. I think that should definitely be recognized by lawmakers in Tallahassee, and not have any undue hardship placed upon these folks."

Simon was one of several people at the press conference who are headed up to Tallahassee to express dismay at the fact that the state would even consider such a bill.

"My union alone has over 1,000 members whose lives would be hurt by this passing, so we have to speak up," he said.

Jim Junecko spoke for local construction workers with the International Union of Operating Engineers saying that, "Now is not the time to put any roadblocks in front of workers rights." Junecko was referencing the economic catastrophe brought on by the pandemic and the difficulties regular workers are having keeping a roof over their heads.

The constant message throughout the conference was one of hope that lawmakers will do the right thing, and Stephanie Yocum with the Polk County Education Association addressed politicians in Tallahassee directly.

"We call on our legislators in this final week of session to stand up and speak out and protect workers rights," she said.


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Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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