Republicans and corporate interests pushing anti-union measure

Republican lawmakers advanced an anti-union bill Wednesday that would prevent workers from getting paid during the time they conduct union business.

Big business is firmly behind the bill. The proposal was introduced at the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in Washington D.C. last fall, and the conservative James Madison Institute released a report last summer calling on Florida legislators to pass such a measure.

Representatives from the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Americans For Prosperity, a group backed by billionaire political funders Koch Industries, spoke in support of the bill.

Under current state law, public employees are allowed to get paid while working on union recruiting and representation. It’s called “release time,” and it’s negotiated through collective bargaining agreements. But the proposal approved in a Florida House Committee on Wednesday would ban those agreements.

“I feel if you’re getting paid by the taxpayers to do a job, then you should be doing those duties, and providing your service to the taxpayers who are paying your salary,” said state Rep. Jayer Williamson, a Republican from the Panhandle’s Santa Rosa County who is sponsoring the bill. “If you’re someone who’s in a position to do duties for a union, then that should either be paid for by the union, or it should be done on your own time after hours.”

Rich Templin, legislative and policy director with the Florida AFL-CIO union, argued that  representatives from management aren’t using their personal time when negotiating with union representatives. He added that they are also paying “millions of dollars to outside law firms and consultants to come in and do that for them.”

Williamson told the House Oversight, Transparency & Public Management Subcommittee that he introduced the measure because of his experience running an electrical contracting business. He said that when he pays his employees, he expects them to do a job for his company, and not for somebody else.

Several state unions are fighting the measure, including the Fraternal Order of Police, the Police Benevolent Association, the Florida State Firefighters Association, the AFL-CIO and other public employee unions. At least 36 people expressed their opposition at the meeting.

Templin of the AFL-CIO told lawmakers: “So what this bill is saying is that…all of these public servants, you can’t participate in the contract that impacts you and your family’s lives, but the other side can bring in all kinds of outside experts to do that work.”

Several Democrats on the committee also expressed opposition, with some questioning whether the proposal is constitutional.

Trying to find common ground, state Rep. Javier Fernandez, a Democrat from Miami-Dade County, introduced an amendment to clarify what activities workers could so on “release time,” citing previous rulings by both the National Labor Relations Board and the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission. The amendment was voted down, but Williamson said he was willing to continue to discuss it with Rep. Fernandez as the bill advances.

Republicans on the committee applauded the bill.

“I for one think the taxpayers would want their tax dollars used for government purposes only,” said committee chairman Rep. Scott Plakon, Republican from Seminole County.

The Republican Party’s anti-union sentiment reached the White House last year, when Trump issued an executive order banning federal employees from spending more than 25 percent of their work hours on “release time.”

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