Vincent F. Vernuccio, Your Turn
I recently heard about a teacher in Florida, who in her second year on the job decided she didn’t want to continue as a member of her local teachers union. She had signed up under a bit of peer pressure and now just wants her full paycheck.
After spending several days trying to find out how to stop having union dues withheld, she was told that she had to go to the union office between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. to complete the paperwork. Yes, leaving the union means showing up in person at a union office when she’s supposed to be in the classroom with her students.
Public sector unions (which are private organizations), can have money taken directly out of public employees’ paychecks with nothing more than an assurance to employers that the workers want to pay them. Florida public employers get no documentation from the employee, no form or evidence at all — only the word of the group getting the money. Then barriers to leaving the union are erected to make it as difficult as possible for employees to quit.
Thankfully, there are those looking to protect public employees and safeguard their paychecks. Rep. Jamie Grant and Sen. Jeff Brandes have introduced legislation in their respective chambers in the Florida Legislature this session to rein in a process lacking transparency. These bills protect public employees’ paychecks and their choice to join and pay a union — or not to do so.
The legislation rests on one very simple premise: Before taking money out of a public employee’s paycheck, the employer must get permission from the employee and not take anyone else’s word.
The proposal calls for public employees to be informed of their rights. Florida is a right-to-work state, and a recent U.S. Supreme Court case said public employees have a First Amendment right to refrain from paying dues.
When we sign up for a bank account or even an ordinary email list, we receive a request for confirmation. In the same way, this legislative proposal simply asks that when public employees make a request for dues deduction after being informed of their rights, their employer sends an email or receives a written form confirming the employee’s decision.
Finally, the legislation gives public employees the ability to make this choice annually instead of signing up just once and having money taken out of their paycheck for the rest of their career.
HB 1 and SB 804 use a commonsense approach to ensure good accounting practices and protect those who serve in our classrooms teaching our kids, work every day in public works departments, or put their lives on the line protecting us. For all that these people do for us each and every day, we must make sure their paychecks are safeguarded and their hard-earned pay goes where they want it to go.
Vincent F. Vernuccio is senior labor policy advisor for Workers for Opportunity.