FILE - FL Richard Corcoran - 5-4-2018

Then-Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran speaks May 4, 2018, at an event honoring fallen police officers. Corcoran has been named as Florida's commissioner of education.

Florida lawmakers in 2018 included a provision in a massive omnibus education bill that requires unions representing school district employees be de-certified as collective bargaining units if less than 50 percent of its “instructional personnel” don’t pay dues.

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 House Bill 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 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 [PERC].

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.

One independent teachers union with less than 50 percent of their “instructional personnel members” listed as dues-paying has been decertified by PERC and another could be under the new law.

The Jefferson County Education Association [JCEA] was de-certified because it failed to file any information after the Florida Board of Education mandated it be operated by Somerset Academy, a nonprofit charter school company, as part of a five-year “turnaround plan” for the “failing” district.

Santa Rosa Professional Educators [SRPE] had its certification revoked after it reported only 644 of 2,055 district “instructional” employees were due-paying members.

The union, however, has submitted “interest cards” from 690 employees – exceeding the 30 percent threshold – and hopes to be re-certified, SRPE Executive Director Anna Neese told The Center Square.

“We are applying for recertification. It will go for a vote,” Neese said Monday. “This is something that [teachers’ unions] will have to do every year, across the state, wherever [dues-paying membership] is below 50 percent.”

SRPE attorney Michael Hargraves explained the statute requires if dues-paying “instructional employees” membership falls below 50 percent of all employees represented by a bargaining unit, it must apply for re-certification, which includes a vote in which members and non-members in a district agree the union can represent them.

“PERC has not issued the order to decertify,” Hargraves said. “Under the statute, what happens is you have the opportunity to file a petition to recertify. Decertification does not occur until the commission issues an order to decertify. That has not happened as yet. What we are in the process of doing is a renewal of our certification application and we believe we are going to be successful.”

Morgan Shields, legal counsel and director of Workers for Opportunity with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Mich., said Florida’s HB 7055 is part of a nationwide “workers’ voting rights trend.”

“People are learning even when they get out of the union, even when a majority are not in the union, the unions are still representing them,” she told The Center Square.

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.

While Florida’s teachers unions are public employee collective bargaining units – and represent all district workers, not just teachers – the pattern is similar.

Those days are over in Florida, Shields said.

“I think, overall, when people have a choice, they’ll choose” how they want to be represented, she said. “This is the first year it is happening in Florida.”

Similar laws are in place in Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin, allowing all public employees – not just school district workers – the right to periodically vote to determine which union would provide the best representation, she said.

The Florida Education Association [FEA], which represents more than 140,000 pre K-12 teachers, higher education faculty and educational staff professionals – but not the independent SRPE’s members – filed a lawsuit last June against PERC challenging HB 7055 as a “union-busting” measure that unfairly “targets” teachers.

FEA Chief of Staff Martin Powell told The Center Square “the primary aspect of the suit is equal protection under the law. Ultimately, HB 7055 singled out ‘units of instructional personnel,’” which is unconstitutional under educational and labor law.

The lawsuit also alleges HB 7055 violates the state’s single-subject law by including union certification in a massive omnibus bill that includes provisions that don’t have “much of relationship to each other.”

Powell said he expects a summary judgment in the lawsuit, filed in Leon County Civil Court, this summer.