With a looming implementation date of Saturday, July 1st, Leon County circuit judge J. Lee Marsh denied a plea on Tuesday to prevent a portion of the law that bars government workers from having union fees automatically deducted from their wages.
The decision arrived after three unions and three union members from South Florida sought a temporary injunction against the imminent changes. This decision follows a similar ruling on Monday where a federal judge refused a similar request made by teachers unions.
The law in question, SB 256, was signed into effect by Governor Ron DeSantis last month, sparking the legal challenges. The law places a raft of new constraints on public employee unions. Supporters of the bill argue that the law will lead to increased transparency, while critics decry it as a politically-charged move aimed at weakening unions.
One of the most contentious elements of the law puts an end to the long-standing practice of automatically deducting union dues from employees’ salaries. The lawsuit filed in Leon County saw legal representatives for unions from cities such as Miami Beach, North Miami Beach, Deerfield Beach, Riviera Beach, and West Palm Beach argue that the law breaches collective bargaining rights and will pose a financial threat to unions.
Plaintiffs argued that the new law “threatens the union’s very viability.” However, Jason Gonzalez, a lawyer for the defendant in the lawsuit, the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission, countered that asking employees to pay their dues via alternate methods will not “irreparably harm” unions.
After listening to over three hours of debate, Marsh ruled that the change does not infringe on collective bargaining rights as it does not significantly impact wages, hours, or conditions of employment, but instead is merely a shift in payment methods.
The ruling does not settle the core issues brought by the lawsuit, but it allows the portion of the law relating to the deduction of union dues to be enacted whilst the lawsuit is ongoing. The end result is that the impacted unions will likely see a drop in revenue while they adjust how they collect dues.
The law, which faced strong opposition from union members throughout the state during the recent legislative session, mandates several other changes, including the requirement for union members to complete new government-prescribed membership forms and a periodic assessment of the percentage of eligible employees who are union members. If less than 60 percent of eligible employees are members, the union must go through a recertification process to maintain its status as a bargaining agent.
The law exempts unions for law-enforcement officers, correctional officers, and firefighters, who have traditionally supported DeSantis and his Republican colleagues, from the new regulations.
Several unions, including the Florida Education Association, the United Faculty of Florida, and unions for employees of the Alachua County school district and the University of Florida, have also filed a federal lawsuit arguing that certain aspects of the law, such as the membership-form requirement, infringe on First Amendment rights.
However, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker declined to halt the law on Monday, ruling that the unions hadn’t demonstrated they had legal standing. Walker echoed this sentiment when rejecting arguments regarding the dues deductions, saying that an injunction wouldn’t remedy the plaintiff’s grievances.