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Florida Teachers’ Union Fights Re-Certification Vote

With an annual budget of $11.5 million, that means UTD sends nearly half of the dues it collects from its members out of the district.

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by Jeff Rhodes

In 1974, following a vote of the 12,000 educators then working for the Dade County School District, a newly minted United Teachers of Dade (UTD) was handed a monopoly by the state of Florida to provide exclusive representation services for all those in its bargaining unit.

If you’re scoring at home, that marks the first and last time the teachers – of whom there are currently more than 30,000 – were allowed a say in the matter. During that span, the union has outlasted four popes, nine Supreme Court justices, and countless world monarchs and dictators given a similar lifetime appointment.

Because Florida is a right-to-work state, where union participation can’t be compelled, it’s hardly surprising that UTD – completely unaccountable as it is to the district, students, parents, the community, or even the teachers who created and sustain it – has seen its dues-paying membership whittled down to just over half of those eligible for it.

The Florida State Legislature last summer addressed this upside-down arrangement by passing a law requiring government employee unions whose paid membership drops below 60 percent to ask the workers for a vote of confidence.

When UTD’s membership rate – even after a furious last-minute recruiting drive – was found during a December audit to hover at around 56 percent, the recertification apparatus kicked in automatically.

The union is currently scrambling to meet requirements to participate in that election, which will likely take place later this year. Even more terrifying to Big Labor, an alternative union – dubbed the Miami-Dade Education Coalition – promising lower dues, no political agenda, and greater accountability to its members, is likely to appear on the same ballot.

For their part, UTD leaders are outraged by the realization that they answer to something other than their own avarice and arrogance. Predictably, they’d rather twist the facts and blame others to explain their predicament.

“We just have to be clear about what’s really going on here,” said UTD vice president Tony White. “This is a coordinated effort … to eliminate teacher’s unions in general, but more specifically, United Teachers of Dade.”

How being forced twice a century to demonstrate the support of at least half its membership constitutes an unreasonable burden, he didn’t say. But waking up one fine morning and discovering you actually have to provide a service people are willing to purchase in exchange for the millions you’re accustomed to confiscating in dues for nothing must be a jarring experience.

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This is the same Tony White, by the way, who lost his teaching certificate but kept his union job after being arrested in 2000 for the purchase and possession of crack cocaine.

More broadly, we’re talking about a union whose president of more than 40 years, Pat L. Tornillo Jr. and two other top officers were found to have embezzled more than $3.5 million from dues revenue. A union whose 2010 presidential election was the subject of a lawsuit when votes from 16 schools were mysteriously invalidated, drastically skewing the results. A union whose shop steward was arrested in 2017 for molesting nine underaged students. A union that donated $500,000 to Democrat Charlie Crist’s unsuccessful campaign for governor – a race in which his running mate was UTD President Karla Hernandez-Mats.

The union’s persistent actions have shown it to be not only thoroughly corrupt but also more concerned with advancing a leftist political agenda than advocating for its members.

To express this indifference in terms of dollars and cents, according to its most recent IRS filing, in the 2022 fiscal year alone, UTD funneled $5.3 million out of the district to state and national affiliates like the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Education Association (NEA), the Florida Education Association (FEA), the Florida AFL-CIO and the South Florida Central Labor Council (CLC).

With an annual budget of $11.5 million, that means UTD sends nearly half of the dues it collects from its members out of the district.

Of the $6.2 million it keeps in Dade County, UTD spends more than $5 million on salaries for officers and staff (Hernandez-Mats alone pulls down $223,000). Once its other overhead costs are factored in, the union has only a tiny fraction left to spend advocating for its dues-payers.

All of which is bad enough for the long-ignored teachers whose allegiance UTD has the gall to demand, but it’s even worse for the students and parents of the Miami-Dade community whose right to quality education has been dismissed as collateral damage by a union whose priorities have been out of whack since before most of them were even born.

If it feels like UTD is fighting for its life, that’s because it is. And to paraphrase the Greek philosopher Aeschylus, “In war, truth is always the first casualty.”

Jeff Rhodes is Vice President for News and Information at the Freedom Foundation.

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