Rebecca Blackwell/AP Photo
- Being in a teacher’s union in Florida just got harder.
- Teachers now must mail in their dues every month instead of paycheck deductions.
- The measure will be coupled with higher teacher pay.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida signed a bill into law Tuesday that will require teachers who want to be in unions to mail in written checks every month.
The system would replace the current arrangement, widely used in unions across the US, in which teacher union dues get automatically deducted from their paychecks. It was widely panned by Florida Democrats as “union busting.”
The change will make it harder for unions to exist and pile red tape onto teachers, Florida Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book said in a statement.
“We can trust teachers to make their own personal choices in how they spend their hard-earned money, and attempting to silence the groups that advocate for better pay and better working conditions is unconstitutional and undemocratic,” she said.
The law imposes additional responsibilities on unions, including mandating new reporting to the state on the number of employees eligible for membership and how many ended up enrolling. Those with less than 60% membership would need to reapply for certification.
On average, roughly 60% of teachers in Florida are paying dues toward their unions, shows a Florida Senate analysis.
The signings represent a win for DeSantis, who has battled teacher’s unions since the COVID pandemic and first proposed the change to union dues in December 2022.
Teachers’ unions have been one of the governor’s top foes, particularly starting in the fall of 2020 after they resisted his push to reopen schools during the pandemic, citing safety fears, and after DeSantis banned mask mandates in classrooms.
Even Charlie Crist, a former congressman and DeSantis’ failed 2022 Democratic challenger, picked Miami-Dade’s teachers’ union boss, Karla Hernández-Mats, as his running mate. School unions tend to give to Democrats over Republicans in political races.
DeSantis accused unions of being “political organizations” that weren’t “looking out for the interests” of parents and students.
“The school unions have become very partisan,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “That’s not what school is about.”
DeSantis’ crusade to reshape public education in Florida has led to conservative accolades and backlash from liberals, helping the governor consistently rank in second place in polling for a hypothetical 2024 Republican presidential primary behind former President Donald Trump.
The governor hasn’t said whether he’ll run, but he’s expected to announce a presidential bid sometime this month or next once he has finished authorizing Florida’s budget and signing more bills into law.
During the November elections, DeSantis made reshaping school boards one of his top priorities. Among DeSantis’ other most well-known education policies are bills he signed into law to limit the way race, gender, and sexuality are taught in public schools. He has defended the changes on the grounds that parents should have a say on what their children learn, though it has led to confusion in certain districts, including book removals.
The governor also expanded vouchers for families to use state money to pay for private or charter schools, while public school educators in Florida lament that they’re deeply underfunded and understaffed.
The new Florida anti-union law creates another hurdle for organized labor in Florida, whose “Right to Work” status is enshrined in the state constitution. Under current law, Florida workers can opt out of joining a union, which in turn restricts unions from collecting dues from employees who benefit from negotiated worker protections, as well as pay increases and healthcare benefits.
During Tuesday’s press conference, DeSantis stressed that he planned to approve more than $1 billion in teacher pay increases when he tackles the state budget. The amount is $252 million higher than the state’s current level.
Florida comes in at 48th in the nation for average teacher salaries, according to the National Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union. The group’s president, Andrew Spart, said it “will not go quietly.”
“Gov. DeSantis talks about empowering teachers, but what we see is the opposite,” Spar said. “Florida’s critical shortage of teachers and staff has only grown worse under this governor’s policies, and we fully expect that trend to continue.”
DeSantis framed the anti-union move as “paycheck protection” for teachers, saying it would “lead to more take-home pay.”
On Tuesday, he signed other measures into law, including one that would give teachers the right to ban phones from their classrooms and another that created term limits for school board members.