Could Legislation Targeting Public-Sector Unions Threaten Academic Freedom?

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Could Legislation Targeting Public-Sector Unions Threaten Academic Freedom?
The Employee Organizations Representing Public Employees Bill would change how union dues and fees are collected for some public employees in Florida. File photo: Burlingham, Shutter Stock, licensed.

TALLAHASSEE FL – Union leaders and public-sector workers say bills advancing in the Florida Legislature, if passed, will strip them of their representation and could also do the same for academic freedom.

Speaking in committee last week, Florida State University associate professor of religion Joseph Hellweg said he used to recruit for his union – United Faculty of Florida – and heard a variety of reason why some of his colleagues chose not to pay their dues.

He said he disagrees with the proposal that would require 60% instead of 50% of workers eligible for union representation be dues-paying members in order for the union to remain certified.

“You will essentially be attacking workers’ freedoms, not defending them,” said Hellweg. “And I fear that one reason for this bill is in fact to undermine academic freedom by ending tenure, which could happen since UFF is the only reason tenure exists.”

State Sen. Blaise Ingoglia – R-Spring Hill – sponsors the bill, which would also remove the automatic deductions of dues from union member paychecks – claiming it would promote more face-to-face conversations with their union representatives.

Opponents have also criticized the bill because the changes does not apply to unions for law enforcement, correctional officers, probation officers or firefighters.

President of the Florida Education Association Andrew Spar said Senate Bill 256 limits teachers’ freedoms, and he believes Gov. Ron DeSantis is retaliating against those who speak up.

“By being that group of individuals who speak out for students, they have become a target,” said Spar. “This governor has made it clear, he targets anyone that he believes is in his way or anyone that speaks out against what he wants to do.”

The proposals are no stranger to union advocates. It’s simply the latest version of similar legislation that has been introduced by Florida lawmakers since at least 2011.

The difference is that Republicans have control over both of Florida’s chambers, so it is expected to pass.

The proposals could affect more than 150,000 working people in Florida who are represented by unions.

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