Florida Teachers On Edge: Union's Move Could Leave Them Without Representation

By Javier Sanchez | Monday, 08 April 2024 03:00 PM
Views 2.5K

In an audacious bid to maintain its monopoly over the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the union representing over 24,000 teachers and support staff is resorting to a strategy that could potentially backfire, leaving its members without any workplace representation.

On March 18, the United Teachers of Dade (UTD) appealed to a hearing officer with Florida’s Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) to dismiss a rival union's request to participate in an upcoming election. This election is set to determine the bargaining representative for the South Florida educators. The UTD's argument, paradoxically, could invalidate its own petition.

This election is a consequence of a law enacted by the state’s legislature in May last year, necessitating a recertification vote for government employee unions whose paid membership falls below 60 percent of the total bargaining unit. This law has already stripped several smaller Florida unions of their certification. Now, the UTD, one of the country's largest teacher's unions, is facing a similar fate after an independent audit in December revealed that only 56 percent of the defined bargaining unit were paying dues.

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A nascent union, the Miami-Dade Education Coalition (MDEC), has requested to be included on the same ballot for the yet-to-be-scheduled recertification vote. On March 11, MDEC submitted 2,564 showing-of-interest cards to PERC's headquarters in Tallahassee, significantly more than required under the agency’s regulations to secure a spot on the ballot.

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However, UTD's lawyers have countered, arguing that state laws only allow MDEC to participate in a certification election, not a recertification election. This argument is fundamentally flawed. According to Fla. Stat. § 447.305(6), the guidelines for certification outlined in Fla. Stat. § 447.307(2) and (3) apply to recertification efforts as well, thereby allowing another employee organization to intervene in the representation election process.

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Despite the clear legal provisions, UTD attorneys maintain that MDEC is ineligible to participate in the recertification election, even though MDEC has complied with the relevant statutes. In a perplexing move, UTD is using the certification procedures set forth in § 447.307(2) and (3) in its petition for recertification, while simultaneously asking PERC to selectively permit UTD's use of the certification process and deny MDEC the same privilege.

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This approach could lead to two potential outcomes: either PERC determines that Florida law applies to both petitions, allowing MDEC to participate in the upcoming election alongside UTD, or PERC lacks any framework to process UTD’s “recertification” petition, resulting in the revocation of the union’s certification.

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In the latter scenario, the union would effectively self-destruct, having denied MDEC the opportunity to intervene and simultaneously dismantling its own union.

As an experienced educator in Miami, I am not surprised by the union's predictable response to a predicament of its own making. This incident is just another example of the union's long history of incompetence.

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UTD has repeatedly failed to represent the bargaining unit effectively, from neglecting to challenge the school district’s decision to eliminate step raises to inadequately addressing problematic working conditions.

In response to these failures, a group of like-minded educators established MDEC, with a focus on issues concerning the wages, benefits, and working conditions of Miami-Dade teachers and staff. Under MDEC's administration, membership dues will be significantly lower as MDEC will not be affiliated with the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers. This means that millions of dollars will not be diverted to national headquarters, nor will MDEC use members’ hard-earned wages to fund political candidates and causes that members may not agree with.

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MDEC represents what UTD should have been but never achieved. The new recertification requirement is designed to make public-sector unions more accountable. UTD's actions demonstrate precisely why this was necessary.

Rather than attacking its accusers, UTD should be rectifying its own shortcomings. It should be taking responsibility for the corruption and incompetence that has cost it nearly half its paid membership. Its inability or unwillingness to do so underscores why UTD’s incompetent rule must end. Miami-Dade educators should seize the opportunity to vote for a union that prioritizes wages, benefits, and working conditions.

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