By Kathleen Haughney, Tallahassee Bureau
TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House delivered a major blow to public employee unions Friday, approving a bill that would ban automatic dues deduction from a government paycheck and require members to sign off on the use of their dues for political purposes.
Democrats and Republicans fought over the legislation for just under two hours. Democrats and labor unions have accused conservatives of “union-busting” and said the bill was more about political payback than public policy. Unions have typically been big backers of Democratic candidates.
Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, the House sponsor of the legislation, said this was simply the state’s movement to get out of the dues deduction business and let the unions take care of it.
“It’s a bill that empowers membership of labor unions,” Dorworth said.
The measure, HB 1021, passed by a 73-40 vote, with three Republican lawmakers siding with the Democrats.
Florida is a “right to work” state, which means a worker is not forced to join a union. But many public employees do so, and state employers typically withhold union dues from workers’ paychecks. A portion of those dues is set aside by their unions for education, community action â€” and political contributions.
Democrats argued that Republicans are simply trying to take out their political opponents.
“It’s about silencing the opposition. That’s not democratic,” said Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach.
During the last general election cycle, the statewide teachers’ union gave more than $3.4 million in campaign contributions, mostly to Democrats. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees doled out nearly $1.4 million, much of it directly to the state Democratic Party.Â And the AFL-CIO and other labor groups gave hundreds of thousands of dollars more.
For the past few weeks, labor groups have been actively campaigning against the bill and testifying against it in legislative committee meetings, but the Republican majority was largely united in pushing the bill through the House.
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