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Rusty Brown Opinion: Florida Labor-Reform Measures Cut Government Unions Down to Size

After engaging with Florida lawmakers for several years, the Freedom Foundation played a key role in helping the state pass the country’s most muscular labor-reform bill since Wisconsin’s Act 10 in 2011.

In the interim, several states have adopted portions of the Wisconsin model. Then the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME invalidated most government-employee membership forms and spurred new legislative opportunities. In response to Janus, many states have approved legislation codifying what a valid union membership form must include to be recognized legally.

A state with a large number of government-union members, Florida, has forged its own path – one likely to be emulated. Florida’s new union law opens the door to push back against the stranglehold that Big Labor has on state policy and on government employees.

The new law prevents government agencies from deducting union dues directly from their employees’ paychecks, thus forcing unions to do their own accounting. Also, consistent with Janus, Florida will now require language on union-membership forms reminding workers that they don’t have to join if they don’t choose to, and that they can’t be discriminated against based on their decision.

Both provisions take effect July 1.

Other provisions won’t take effect until October 1. They are more complicated to implement, since they require agency rulemaking and a substantial overhaul of the Florida Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC).

The most sweeping change is a provision triggering automatic recertification elections for unions with low membership.

Public-sector unions must already file an application for recertification annually with PERC. Going forward, that application must specify the number of employees represented – and the number actually paying dues. If the latter number drops below 60 percent, an election is automatically scheduled, in which the employees in that bargaining unit will be asked to decide the union’s fate.

In addition, the membership numbers reported in the application must be verified by an independent CPA. This financial audit expands beyond simply verifying membership; unions are now required annually to file audited financial statements listing all receipts and expenditures.

Supporters of the provision getting state agencies out of the dues-collection business note that the previous arrangement created the false impression that dues payments were authorized or endorsed by the government.

The more than 200,000 Florida government employees currently having dues deducted straight out of their paychecks will see their wages increased.

The recertification and financial audits, however, are the real meat of the legislation.

Florida’s public-sector unions will have to create a new model in which employees are educated about their options and persuaded to join, rather than being bullied to join. The union monopoly no longer exists: instead of collecting dues from every public employee, unions will be supported only by those whose loyalty they’ve actually earned.

Under the new law, Florida employees can hold their unions accountable for the quality of representation being provided. And if they’re not satisfied, the union’s days will be numbered. Just like how things work in the real world of the marketplace.

Having worked hard to see the new reforms adopted, the Freedom Foundation is committed now to making sure they are enforced.

Rusty Brown is the southern director of the Freedom Foundation. This article was originally published by RealClearFlorida and made available via RealClearWire.

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