Since the 2010 midterm elections, public employee unions have been in the crosshairs in states with Republican governors and/or Republican-dominated legislatures, including in Florida. The conservative think tank ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council – has pitched its extensive menu of ready-to-introduce union-busting and privatization bills around the country. As a result, the same legislation has been cropping up in state legislature after state legislature: bills to gut or completely eliminate collective bargaining rights for public sector workers; bills to cut pension benefits; bills to defund and privatize public services, including education; bills to make it more difficult for unions to collect their members’ dues or for them to collect voluntary political action fund contributions. And then there’s the creative array of bills to make it harder for the poor and minority voters to cast their ballots. ALEC’s members include corporations, foundations, and think tanks as well as individual state legislators. The infamous billionaire Koch brothers fund ALEC. (For more on ALEC, see the recent article by University of Wisconsin faculty Julie Underwood and Julie F. Mead.)
You’ve seen what pages of the ALEC playbook the Florida legislature has taken so far. But other states have been even faster in eroding public workers’ rights. Wisconsin has severely limited what unions can bargain and requires annual certification of unions by a majority of the entire bargaining unit. (How many state legislators won their seats by getting 51% of the votes of all eligible voters in their districts?) Alabama, Arizona, North Carolina, and Wisconsin have ended public employee unions’ ability to use payroll deduction to collect members’ dues. In 2011, 25 states, including Florida, passed pension legislation that rolled back benefits for public employees, by increasing employee contributions and/or the period used to calculate the final average salary upon which benefits are based, and/or the minimum length of service or age requirements to be able to collect full benefits.
But public employees and their unions – including UFF’s state affiliate, the Florida Education Association (FEA), and your national union partners, NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – along with the general public are fighting back in powerful coalitions. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is now facing a recall election as a result of his successful union-busting agenda during his first year in office. In Ohio, Governor John Kasich and the Republican majority in the legislature were rebuffed last November by an overwhelming repeal of a comprehensive anti-collective bargaining law that would have, among other things, completely outlawed higher education faculty unions. Unions, including FEA, are filing and winning lawsuits to challenge the constitutionality of these anti-worker laws. We are mobilizing to stop harmful bills (check out www.educationvotes.nea.org), and we are organizing in 2012 to elect candidates – including those who are union members – at every level of government who will protect public education and the rights of public employees. If you’re not already a member, join UFF and contribute to the UFF PAC. If you are a member and not active, get involved in the union. What’s at stake? Your contract, your rights, and the quality of your university and the education you can provide your students.
By Valerie Wilk, Higher Education Organizer, National Education Association