FILE - Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody 

The state’s largest teachers union and other plaintiffs have dropped their July 2018 lawsuit against a state law adopted that year that requires teacher unions to be regularly recertified to represent employees.

The Florida Education Association (FEA) is among plaintiffs that filed a one-paragraph notice of dismissal on Nov. 1, two weeks before Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey was scheduled to hear the state’s request for summary judgment upholding 2018’s House Bill 7055, a massive education omnibus bill that includes a provision that teacher unions must be re-certified if fewer than 50 percent of employees eligible for representation are dues-paying members.

The notice did not explain the plaintiffs’ reasons for seeking a dismissal "without prejudice," but the withdrawal leaves the possibility of a future lawsuit still in play.

In August hearings on the lawsuit, Dempsey had rejected key arguments raised by opponents, who challenged the constitutionality of the law and claimed the new re-certification requirement violated collective-bargaining rights and equal-protection rights, as the requirements did not apply to other public-sector unions.

Dempsey wrote HB 7055 did not violate collective-bargaining rights. She cited the state's teacher shortage as a reason why teachers should be treated differently than other employees.

The state "recognizes the need for further accommodations when it comes to public school teachers,” she wrote.

In March filings, FEA attorneys and those for other unions wrote the law’s recertification requirement "imposes numerous burdens upon instructional employees, but no other category of public employees."

Under HB 7055, a union is required to get statements of support from 30 percent of the bargaining unit and then hold an election.

"If it fails to earn a favorable vote of 50 percent of the voting employees, it faces decertification," the unions argue. "This will leave the employees of the unit with no collective bargaining representative. Even if the organization is not decertified, the employees in the bargaining unit are burdened by their chosen representative having to redirect its resources from collective bargaining activities in order to ensure it meets a certain membership level every year. These are significant burdens upon plaintiffs' right to effective collective bargaining."

But Attorney General Ashley Moody's office, which is defending HB 7055, disputed those claims during the state’s September motion for summary judgment.

The recertification requirement "does absolutely nothing to infringe upon public school teachers' right to have union representation for collective bargaining should they decide to want it,” the state claims.

"The only ‘risk' that arises under the recertification requirement is that union representatives forced to seek reelection might be voted out by teachers," Moody’s motion continues. "But this ‘risk' is solely to the union representative, not to any of the teachers in the unit. Regardless of whether a majority of the teachers are or are not paying dues, their jobs are unaffected."

As a right-to-work state, Florida forbids requiring employees to join organized labor organizations, or pay dues, in order to be represented by unions in bargaining with school districts and the state.

Supporters of HB 7055 – overwhelmingly Republican in the GOP-controlled legislature – said teachers unions were representing school district employees in collective bargaining negotiations by default, even when fewer than half those eligible were not dues-paying members.

Led by then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, now state Education Commissioner, proponents maintained teachers unions were more engaged in their own pursuits than in the interests of paying and non-paying members.

HB 7055 requires teacher unions to document the percentage of dues-paying members within the ranks of those they represent. Those that failed to garner dues-paying membership of at least 50 percent of “instructional personnel” would be de-certified as collective bargaining units by the state’s Public Employees Relations Commission.

To regain status as a collective bargaining unit, the union would have to submit a re-certification petition that includes “interest cards” from at least 30 percent of employees and conduct an election in which a majority agree the union can represent them.

According to a study by James Sherk, former research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, the vast majority of union members have never voted for which union would represent them.

Only 7 percent of private sector union members were employed when their workplace was organized. The other 93 percent “inherited” their unions, Sherk writes.