Circuit judge strikes blow to teachers unions in case against membership requirements

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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
August 13, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- As students around the state make their way back into the classrooms, Florida teachers unions are coping with a defeat in their case against a law requiring them to maintain 50% membership or else face a re-certification process.

The law passed in 2018 requires teachers unions to undergo a mandatory re-certification vote if they fall below the 50% threshold.

Circuit Court Judge Angela Dempsey upheld the requirement at face value in a summary judgement issued Friday.

“We lost round one, but there's many more to go,” said Tom Brooks, an attorney representing unions in the suit.

Now the case goes to trial where teachers unions hope to prove the law unconstitutionally singles them out.

“The legislature has passed a statute that has a completely irrational basis,” said Brooks.

The author of the original certification language Rep. Scott Plakon said in 2018, he was concerned teachers unions weren’t meeting the needs of all their members.

“There's a number of unions in the state that have a very low percentage of the bargaining units that actually pay dues and I would interpret that as they're not being responsive to their members,” said Plakon.

In the summary judgement, judge Dempsey cited the state’s teacher shortage as justification for the unique requirement, explaining the state has a legitimate interest in keeping teachers satisfied with their representation.

Despite the law having been in effect for a full year, no teachers unions have so far failed to attain 50 percent membership.

Brooks said even prior to the law’s passage there was an existing decertification process, but teachers rarely, if ever, invoked it.

“It hasn't happened,” said Brooks. "Under this law, not a single employee has to say 'I don't want to continue the union’.”

Based on those facts, unions believe the Legislature’s true intent was to hurt unions, not help teachers.

We reached out to the Department of Education for comment, but did not receive a response.

The current Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran was House Speaker when the law was passed in 2018.

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