Florida House votes to ban automatic payroll deductions of union dues

— Cash, check or charge.

Union leaders representing government workers may need to start looking for new ways to collect payment from their members after the Florida House voted 73-40 on Friday, largely along party lines, to ban automatic payroll deductions of union dues for all government workers.

House Bill 1021 would also require written authorization by union members for their dues to be used for any political activities.

“This is a bill that appropriately confines government to a role that it should play, and it’s a bill that empowers membership of labor unions,” said Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, the bill’s sponsor.

But Democrats argued that the legislation is nothing more than a thinly veiled and un-American attempt at “union busting,” because unions generally support Democrats.

“This is a calculated step to diminish the power of the unions, and only takes critical brain power away from the issues of what we should be focused on today, jobs, jobs, jobs, economic recovery, education, budget balancing and health care,” said Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton. “We didn’t get elected to sit here to wage an ideological war. We were elected to work together for the state of Florida.”

Dorworth’s seven-page bill, along with a companion bill winding through the Florida Senate, are just two of several pieces of legislation proposed by Republicans this session that would further limit union power in Florida.

“This is not the first, nor the last attempt at union busting this session,” Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston, said during debate Friday morning.

Another bill introduced in the House would require unions that represent less than half of an organization’s members to file for recertification. Yet another bill would require unions to send a written notice to their members every year explaining their rights to decertify the union.

If HB1021 becomes law, local union leaders said it could make collecting dues more difficult, and could have a “chilling effect” on membership.

“I don’t want to have to hunt down 70 people every month looking for union dues,” said Robert Young, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union representing Naples police officers. “We’re coming up with a solution one way or the other. It may be that adversity makes us stronger.”

Gov. Rick Scott and “right-wing Republicans” are trying to break unions, said Irwin Scharfeld, the union representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for city of Naples workers.

“It would hurt us,” Scharfeld said of Friday’s bill, “but Rick Scott is one of our best organizers. He’s getting people so concerned about what’s going on that people are now asking us how can they join the union. They realize he’s going after their jobs, their pensions, and their health insurance.

“The only one that’s standing up for them is the union.”

Supporters of the bill said government shouldn’t be in the businesses of collecting money that would be used for political purposes. The technology exists, they said, for unions to collect dues on their own through online banking and other means.

Critics questioned the constitutionality of the bill, which singles out unions, but doesn’t affect payroll deductions for hundreds of other purposes and groups, including insurance, charitable organizations like the United Way and even Florida State University football tickets.

During a question-and-answer session on the House floor Thursday, Dorworth said he expected legal challenges. The bill is based on a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court case that allowed Idaho to prohibit payroll deductions for union dues.

“We’re going to sue the hell out of them,” said Jeff McAdams, an FOP union president out of the Gainesville area. “Why? Because this is clearly, blatantly unconstitutional because they are only targeting unions. Why? I’ve been in meetings with some folks who are saying we’ve got to stop the Democrats from having this source of income to fund their campaigns, and the union dues go that route.

“There’s too much … money going to Democrats, and that’s what this is all about. There’s nothing else.”

Republicans say the intent of the bill is to empower union members by giving them more say in how their dues are spent, and to allow them to continue participating in a union even if they don’t agree with the union’s political activity.

Local union leaders say their members’ dues aren’t used for political activity. Instead, their members have the option of contributing to separate political action committees.

“I think it was absolutely the right thing,” Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, said of his vote for the bill. “I think it allows for more personal empowerment, and allows people to make good decisions, and quite frankly, I think it will allow them to be more engaged in the civics process.”

Rep Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, who also voted for the bill, said he would have supported a broader bill that would have ended even more payroll deductions. He said he suspects that if signed into law, the bill would have a fiscal impact on unions.

“When (union members) have to be asked to actually literally write the check for the union dues, they’re going to be much more selective in determining whether or not they want to support that cause,” Caldwell said. “I’m not going to deny that. But my position as a policy is, I don’t think the state should be in the business of collecting funds on behalf of any organization.”

Several Midwestern states, including Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, have also been working on legislation to end payroll deductions for union dues.

Florida is a right-to-work state, meaning workers cannot be compelled to join a union. Florida law prohibits strikes by public employees.

Connect with Ryan Mills at www.naplesnews.com/staff/ryan-mills/

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What Southwest Florida representatives said about HB1021

■ Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres – voted Yes:

“I won’t deny there will probably be a fiscal impact to the unions. I think it’s no different to the way people react when you don’t take their taxes out for them, when you talk about the income tax on the federal level. When you‘ve got to write that check yourself, versus having it taken out before you ever see it every week, you’re reaction is much different in terms of deciding whether in that case you like the tax as much.”

■ Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples – voted Yes:

“I pay all my bills online through payroll deduction, OK, because I’m away from home four months out of the year. If someone can’t figure out how to do a payroll deduction electronically and agree to do so, just like I have to do with my credit card every year – I have to re-up and authorize that – you know what, that is a major part of modern technology the way we are today. I see absolutely nothing wrong with it.”

■ Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami (represents eastern Collier) – voted Yes:

“At the end of the day it just gives the union member the power to say how and where their dues are going to be allocated. … The union bosses do a really good job of ensuring that their members are well-represented. I think for those union members who want to continue to participate in political activity, they will continue to have their dues allocated to such. There are some members, and I know some personally back home, that don’t have any clue as how their union dues get divvied up. And I think they would frankly be appalled at some of the political contributions that are made on their behalf that they don’t particularly agree with from a philosophical perspective.”

■ Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples – voted Yes:

“I think it’s a good bill. I think the state of Florida shouldn’t be in the business of collecting contributions to organizations.”

■ Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, was not present for Friday’s vote, but voted “Yes” after the roll call.

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