Florida Follows Wisconsin's Lead

Public employee union coffers are dealt a serious blow.

The state of Florida is apparently following Wisconsin's lead.  In what the Orlando Sentinel is characterizing as a "major blow to public employee unions," legislators in the House passed HB1021, a bill which would ban automatic paycheck deductions for union dues and require union members to decide whether or not they want their dues to be used for political advocacy by union leaders. Democrats and labor leaders accuse Republicans of "union-busting," while Republicans counter that they are getting the state out of "the dues deduction business" and allowing the unions to do it.  Rep. Chris Dorworth, (R-Lake Mary) claims such a measure "empowers membership of labor unions."

Which side is telling the truth?  Both, sort of.  But it is Democrats who are being far more disingenuous.  It no secret the American labor movement, not just in Florida but every other state in the union as well, overwhelmingly supports the Democrat party.  Or to be more accurate, the labor movement's leadership does.  And therein lies the crux of that disingenuousness.  Both compulsory dues collection, coupled with no input from the people who pay them with respect to political preferences, gives union leaders enormous clout.  Nowhere is such clout better illuminated than the unionization of the American public school system which, no matter how badly it performs, has been fantastically successful in resisting virtually any changes to the status quo.

Florida, like other states, provides the reason why.  During the 2010 election cycle, The Florida Education Association (FEA), the biggest union contributor in the state, gave $3.5 million out of $4.1 million in campaign donations to Democrats.  The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) spent $1.4 million, again mostly on Democrats.

What percentage of campaign contributions by those unions went to each party on a national level?  The website opensecrets.com provides a nationwide overview for the years 1989-2010. The National Education Association (NEA) was the eighth largest campaign contributor in the nation, and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) clocked in at number thirteen.  The NEA contributed 93 percent to Democrats and 6 percent to Republicans, while the AFT went 98 percent Democrat and zero percent Republican.  AFSCME was the third highest campaign contributor in the nation, giving 98 percent to Democrats and one percent to the GOP.

Thus, labor leaders are being accurate when they say that ending the cycle of automatic dues collection with no input from union members as to how those dues are used politically, may not be union-busting per se, but the overall effect is the same.  Yet such a contention is accompanied by an admission, even if it is made inadvertently.  For decades, union leaders have asserted the labor movement's "solidarity," without bothering to mention that such solidarity was largely compulsory.  In reality, compulsory solidarity is an oxymoron, which is why Rep. Dorworth's contention that union membership, as opposed to leadership, will be empowered, is also accurate.

What galls union leadership even more is that the bill passed in the Florida House allows public service employees to demand a refund on any union political activity with which they disagree.  Human nature being what it is, one suspects that such an arrangement might cause more than a few public service employees to suddenly "discover" that their political inclinations have never been what the union leadership assumed they were.  It is unclear how far back in time such claims for refunds can go.

With respect to the state of Florida, union leaders have two semi-legitimate points.   First, as Florida AFL-CIO legislative and political director Rich Templin claims, unions are being unfairly singled out because Florida does automatic payroll deductions for about 300 other entities, such as charities and insurance companies, some of whose political contributions "dwarf those of organized labor." Perhaps the solution here is not to re-instate state payroll deductions for unions, but to eliminate them for everyone, something which would undoubtedly save the state money.  Second, Florida is a "right to work" state and the Florida Constitution forbids anyone from being forced to join a union.  Thus, union leaders contend, anyone who voluntarily joins a union should be subjected to whatever restrictions the union imposes, including mandatory dues collection.  This is an understandable argument with one exception: the same worker who perceives the benefits he gains from joining a union, may still be diametrically opposed to the leadership's political positions.

Union sympathizers are undeterred.  "Please don't put lipstick on this elephant," said Rep. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa). "This bill is about one thing. It's about silencing the voices of working men and women." Yet even if it is, Ms. Cruz omits one critical point:  such silence would be voluntarily self-imposed by those union members who opt out of paying their dues.  If their "voice" is as important to members as Ms. Cruz contends, it would stand to reason that an overwhelming majority of the membership would continue to support the status quo.  If not, it is possible to conclude that members find such a status quo unnecessary--or that they like the idea of being able to bargain with their own leadership far more effectively than is currently possible

As for House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders of Key West's claim the bill is about "Two words: political payback," one might remind Mr. Sauders that a similar phrase would be the one used by president Barack Obama three days after his inauguration 2009, when he reminded an assemblage of Republican and Democrat lawmakers from Congress that "elections have consequences" and "I won."

The Florida Senate version of the House's HB1021 is SB830, introduced by Sen. John Thrasher (R-Jacksonville).  This bill was approved by a 5-4 vote in committee with five Republicans voting in favor, and two Democrats and two Republicans against. It is awaiting two more panels.  “We are a right-to-work state, and in a right-to-work state, this bill is not necessary,” said dissenting Republican Paula Dockery.  “[The taxpayers] think their resources ought not to be used for political agendas,” countered Thrasher, who claimed those are the  complaints he’s hearing from the public.

SB830 may not make it to the Senate floor.  Next stop is the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee, which consists of nine Republican and four Democratic members.  Yet opponents contend that Republicans are not monolithically in support of the legislation, and that it has "anything but a smooth ride" ahead of it.

Like Wisconsin and other states, Florida is battling to get government finances under control.  Ironically, its budget deficit is the same $3.6 billion that afflicts Wisconsin, and in February, Governor Rick Scott introduced a plan he called the "nation's most fiscally conservative," and "Florida's first jobs budget" in a state where the unemployment rate is the nation's third highest at 12 percent, and foreclosure filings rank second.  "Things cannot improve until we have more private sector jobs," Scott said.  Such a sentiment is gaining traction all across the nation, and will undoubtedly be a large factor in the 2012 election.

Perhaps elections have--and may have--consequences after all.


Arnold Ahlert is a contributing columnist to the conservative website JewishWorldReview.com.