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Union Worker "Gag Bill" Could Come to House Floor

March 24, 2011

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - State legislation that would restrict how unions collect dues and spend money on political activities could reach the House floor today, but opponents say the bill looks a lot like a Wisconsin-style attack on workers' rights.

House Bill 1021 would make it illegal to have public employees' union dues taken directly from their paychecks and outlaw similar voluntary deductions for political funds they support. To Rich Templin, Florida AFL-CIO legislative director, the bill appears more like a political tactic meant to weaken unions, especially when he considers that Florida is a "right to work" state.

"Every person in the state of Florida that is a union member has chosen to be a union member and can stop being a union member with simply a phone call and the stroke of a pen."

The bill's Republican sponsor says he doesn't want to see the government involved in collecting union dues, but opponents point to other provisions - such as one that would require all union members' written permission to use dues for political contributions - as evidence of the sponsors' political motivations.

Fiscal analysis of the bill found it will amount to no savings for taxpayers, Templin says, but it will make it more challenging for public-employee unions to operate.

"Words are peppered throughout both of these analyses; it will make it more difficult, more complicated, harder - you know, 'new hurdles,' that's the kind of language you see - on employee organizations and unions."

Templin also feels the bill unfairly targets unions because it leaves out other politically active groups.

"There are groups in the state of Florida - membership organizations like the Florida League of Cities - that actually use taxpayer dollars directly to fund their political work and their legislative advocacy. Those organizations are not being touched either."

The bill passed the appropriations committee on a party-line vote, despite fiery condemnation from numerous union members.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - FL