Collective Hardening: How Florida’s Union Restrictions Could Spread

Florida’s recently enacted curbs on public employee unions won’t directly affect construction and other private industries — at least not yet, critics say


Florida’s new ban on automatic deductions of union dues from the pay of teachers and other public employees is unlikely to spread to union workers in construction and other private industries. What’s more, critics of the dues-deduction ban and other new restrictions on unions that represent public employees say they may cast a cloud on public services in the Sunshine State.

Employers in construction and other private industries are subject to the National Labor Relations Act, so repealing automatic deductions of union dues from the pay of their workers would require a change in federal law.

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“A very small firm could be under state law, but there is no state law for private-sector unions in Florida,” said Jack Fiorito, a professor of management at Florida State University whose research interests include labor and industrial relations.

State and local government employees in Florida have been required to make direct payments of union dues since July 1, when the ban on automatic dues deductions from their pay went into effect. The dues-deduction ban applies to state, county and municipal employees who belong to unions, but it exempts police officers and firefighters. The legislation Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in May permits government employees to immediately end their membership in a union for any reason.

The new rules also require unions representing public workers to recertify themselves if the number of employees who join them is less than 60 percent of the employees eligible to join.

“It’s very clearly an anti-union move,” Fiorito said. The number of eligible employees that unions must recruit to remain certified “is usually 50 percent plus one, a simple majority.”

The new rules may impede efforts by government agencies in Florida to recruit talent, said Rich Templin, director of politics and public policy with the Florida AFL-CIO. State, county and local agencies in Florida generally offer lower pay than private employers but better benefits, such as health insurance and retirement income, Templin said.

“Those benefits are all the result of collective bargaining with these local unions around the state,” he said. “Local governments use what is attained through collective bargaining as a recruiting tool. As that power is diminished by this law, it’s going to be more difficult for local governments to hire the best and the brightest.”

Though the new rules don’t directly affect construction or any other industry in the private sector, Templin said they could indirectly affect all industries by degrading the quality of public services for Florida’s bulging population.

“A lower quality of life impacts all aspects of the economy,” he said. “This is affecting our cities, our counties, our school districts — everyone from classroom teachers to maintenance employees and water treatment employees.”

Florida’s labor force already has one of the nation’s lowest rates of union membership. Among all workers in Florida, union members accounted for 5.5 percent of the total in 2022, the 11th lowest level of union penetration among the 50 states, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The new rules for public employee unions in Florida will have a broad impact on organized labor throughout the state, according to the West Palm Beach-based SEIU Florida Public Service Union. “This is an unfair and clear attempt to dissolve unions in Florida. It will affect workers in our state who rely on unions for a sense of community, security and economic prosperity,” the union said on its website. “Employers often administer automatic paycheck deductions for things such as health insurance dues, contributions to 401(k) accounts, or donations to the United Way, so why not process union dues?”