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Monday, February 28, 2011

John Thrasher's anti-union bill, a solution looking for a problem

From the Orlando Sentinel

A battle between labor and lawmakers is raging in Wisconsin. Tens of thousands of workers have converged on the Capitol to protest Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to curtail collective bargaining rights for government employees. Democratic senators have fled the state to try to sink the proposal, shirking their duty to make a point.

Similar struggles are brewing in other states. Is Florida next? We hope not.

In Tallahassee, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has wisely said he has no plans to go after public employees' collective bargaining rights. But he has introduced a package of reforms that would force employees to start contributing to their pensions and would curtail some of their benefits.

We think the reforms are overdue. They would bring public employees' pensions and benefits more in line with those of most other taxpayers, and save money at a time when state government has to close a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. So far, so good.

But another leader with statewide stature, GOP Sen. John Thrasher of Jacksonville, is proposing to hit Florida's public-employee unions in the wallet by making it harder for them to raise and spend money. Unlike Mr. Scott's proposal, Mr. Thrasher's doesn't have fairness or financial justifications behind it.

Mr. Thrasher, a former state GOP chairman, sponsored a bill last year that would have imposed a merit-pay system on teachers. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the bill under heavy pressure from the state's top teachers union. Mr. Thrasher took a thrashing.

Now Mr. Thrasher appears bent on settling scores with a bill that would bar government agencies from deducting union dues from employees' paychecks. It also would prohibit unions from using dues for political activity without members' written consent. Naturally, he denies his legislation is payback. He insists it's about giving public employees "a choice."

But public employees already have that choice. Florida is a right-to-work state, so employees, including government workers, can't be forced to join a union. If they don't, they don't have to worry about getting dues deducted from their paychecks. And members have to authorize the deductions.

Thrasher's bill is a solution in search of a problem.

As for public employees' generous benefits, don't just blame their unions. Blame the government officials who granted those benefits, even though public employees in Florida are barred from going on strike, the most powerful weapon for unions.

Here's what's really going on with the bill: Eliminating paycheck deductions will only make it harder for the unions to raise money to bankroll their operations. Forcing them to jump through another hoop and get written consent for any political spending will reduce their clout even more.

That clout already is at a low ebb in Florida. Unions usually support Democrats, who now hold all of one statewide office — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — and are at historically weak levels in the House and Senate. If Mr. Thrasher's bill appears on track to pass, it'd invite Wisconsin-style protests from unions desperate to hang on to what little power they have left in Florida.

Our opposition to this political power play does not mean we're inclined to take unions' side on public issues. We think public-employee benefits are due for a haircut. We support merit pay for teachers. We strongly oppose a measure in Congress that would allow workplaces to be unionized without a vote of support from employees in secret-ballot elections.

That said, Florida lawmakers face serious challenges, starting with balancing the state's budget. There's no good reason to distract them by picking an unnecessary fight with public-employee unions.

1 comment:

  1. While the legislature is using our tax dollars to keep fighting against fair redistricting (supported by a supermajority of Florida voters) they want to undermine teachers, policemen, firefighters, nurses and other union members who want to engage in political activity. It’s wrong and it shouldn’t be tolerated.