Teacher unions dealt second blow in paycheck protection case

by | Sep 26, 2023

  • Federal judge denies teachers’ unions’ request to block Florida’s paycheck protection law, which restricts automatic dues deductions.
  • Judge rules that the law, despite undermining contractual bargains, does not substantially interfere with unions’ ability to collect dues.
  • Controversial law also mandates new membership forms and recertification for unions with fewer than 60 percent eligible members; legal battle continues.

For the second time since late June, a federal judge has dealt a blow to state teacher unions, ruling against their request to block Florida’s paycheck protection law. The new law restricts the ability of public-sector unions from automatically deducting dues from workers’ paychecks. Unions now have to receive direct dues payments from members outside of the state payroll system.

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, appointed by President Barack Obama, denied a preliminary injunction sought by several teachers’ unions, including the Florida Education Association, in a 40-page ruling. The decision marks a significant legal victory for Governor Ron DeSantis and Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature, who championed the legislation.

The unions argued that the law unconstitutionally violated contracts requiring payroll dues deductions—contracts agreed upon before the new law took effect on July 1. While Judge Walker acknowledged that the “payroll deduction ban has undermined the contractual bargains” established by collective bargaining agreements, he ultimately found the unions failed to prove that the law substantially interfered with their ability to collect dues. Walker noted that the unions were aware of the risk that legislative action could alter their collective bargaining agreements and that alternative methods for dues collection existed.

This ruling comes nearly three months after Judge Walker rejected an earlier motion for a preliminary injunction in the case. After some adjustments were made in the lawsuit to address the judge’s previous concerns, Friday’s decision again ruled against the unions’ second request for an injunction.

The unions filed their suit against members of the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission, among others, claiming that the law violated the U.S. Constitution and specifically targeted them. The Florida Education Association led the lawsuit and added three school boards and the University of Florida Board of Trustees to its amended complaint filed in July.

The law has been a contentious issue from its inception, drawing heavy debate during the legislative session earlier this year. Proponents argue the changes increase transparency, while critics say it’s an attempt at “union busting.”

In addition to the dues deduction change, the law also requires union members to fill out new government-worded membership forms. Furthermore, the law mandates that unions be recertified as bargaining agents if fewer than 60 percent of eligible employees are members. Unions have filed at least three lawsuits and a state Division of Administrative Hearings case challenging different aspects of the law.

Political observers note that teachers’ unions are among the largest donors to the Democratic Party in Florida. In contrast, the state legislature is overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans, adding another layer to the highly charged issue.

While representatives of the unions did not immediately respond for comment, neither did a spokesperson for Governor DeSantis or representatives of the University of Florida Board of Trustees and the involved school boards. The case continues to develop as both sides consider their next legal steps.


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