Florida School District Sues Over 50% Law


Florida recently passed a law requiring unions to have at least 50% membership in a bargaining unit in order to remain that district’s exclusive representative.  Another district is suing because its numbers are not high enough to sustain their exclusive representative status.   Lynn Hatter has the story on

Leon, Wakulla and Nassau County teachers are in danger of losing their union representation if membership doesn’t get above 50 percent. Now a statewide teachers union is challenging the new rule in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Leon County Circuit court.

Part of a new law says at least half of eligible teachers in a district have to pay dues to their local union or risk the union’s standing. The statewide teachers group, the Florida Education Association, wants a court to overturn the provision. if a judge rules in its favor it could result in the entire law being tossed. That same law lets bullied kids to transfer to other public schools or receive money to attend a private one.

There are 10 other local teachers unions with membership levels under 50 percent. The new law took effect Sunday. Gov. Rick Scott signed off on HB 7055 in March.

The Leon County Classroom Teachers Association is on a mission to boost membership. Current levels are hovering around 40 percent. The last time the local union was above 50 percent was 15 years ago. But LCTA President Scott Mazur says the low membership figure doesn’t indicate a lack of support. Instead, he says there’s a sense of complacency that seems to have set in about benefits gained through 40 years of negotiations.

Mazur is hoping to get his membership numbers up to 55 percent by the end of the next school year because under a new law, local unions that fall below 50 percent participation of eligible members could get shut down. They have to go through a process called recertification.

“I can’t remember a time since I’ve been in the senate that we haven’t had a lawsuit over education or education funding,” says incoming Senate President Bill Galvano. But he does expect more education-related suits during his tenure.  And his counterpart, incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva, is more direct:

“It doesn’t surprise me they’re filing a lawsuit and chances are over the next few years they’re going to have many more reasons to file lawsuits,” he said.

Under Republican leadership for the past 20 years, the state has steadily been growing alternatives to traditional public schools. Supporters see programs like publically funded but privately managed charter schools, and private school vouchers for low-income students as keys to expanding parental choice. Opponents like the teachers union view those as diversions of public money to private groups—an effort to privatize education. The FEA has also opposed the elimination of tenure for new teachers, efforts to tie evaluations to student test scores and tie bonuses to student performance as well. All of those lawsuits were unsuccessful.