- On Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis previewed plans for teacher paycheck protection and speculated how it might impact teacher’s union membership thresholds
- But the local teacher unions said a 2018 law setting required membership thresholds at 50 percent led to greater union membership
- The unions filed a legal challenge to the law, but ultimately withdrew the lawsuit after preliminary rulings didn’t go in their favor
At an invitation-only education conference on Monday, Governor Ron DeSantis previewed plans to push for teacher paycheck protection, and in the course of the remarks, mentioned his support of membership thresholds for unions to represent teachers.
“If they don’t have a majority of the teachers who are actually signing up to pay dues, it should be decertified,” DeSantis said during the speech. “You shouldn’t be able to continue as a zombie organization that doesn’t have the support of the people you are negotiating for.”
While some media outlets reported that DeSantis’ remarks indicated he also planned to set new membership thresholds, the Florida Education Association pointed out that lawmakers already put such a threshold into state law in 2018.
The state’s largest teacher’s union and other local unions across the state vehemently opposed the changes in 2018, even challenging the constitutionality of the law, House Bill 7055, that required teacher unions to renew their certification if membership falls below 50 percent of instructional personnel. That loss of certification triggers a provision that requires local unions to go through the contentious and expensive process of recertifying their right to represent teachers.
At the time of the bill’s passage, though, teachers unions reported a surge in membership that boosted several local unions above the 50 percent threshold. The Orlando Sentinel reported comments from Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association:
Membership in her union has climbed since the law’s passage from about 46 percent to nearly 55 percent, she said. Teachers unions in Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties also say more teachers have joined, and they, too, are now above the the required threshold.
“In actuality, the bill helped us,” said Sue Carson, president of the Seminole Education Association, where membership has climbed from 48 percent to 52 percent of teachers.
Statewide, 13 local unions have membership below 50 percent, but overall most have seen more teachers join since the law passed, said Joanne McCall, president of the statewide union.
It’s not clear where union membership currently stands, but the lawsuits filed by the FEA and its local union allies ultimately appeared doomed to fail and were withdrawn.
But with so many local teachers unions hovering so close to the 50 percent threshold, successful passage of paycheck protection for teachers could easily push many of them back below the required level to maintain certification.
DeSantis believes that the unions don’t adequately represent the views and interests of a large number of teachers, and said he wants to them to keep more of their money rather than have it squandered on political initiatives that they may not agree with.
“We don’t want to play a role in deducting anybody’s money, so you write [your check] every month for the dues and you do it that way,” DeSantis said. “It’s more of a guarantee that the money is actually going to go to teachers and not be frittered away by interest groups who get involved in the school system.”
In the governor’s race in 2018, teachers unions donated at least $850,000 to Democrat Andrew Gillum, and in 2022, gave at least $550,000 to Charlie Crist.