New Florida law putting restrictions on teachers' unions leads to federal lawsuit against state officials

Governor Ron DeSantis and teachers' unions are in a battle over power. A new law puts certain restrictions on teachers' unions, and they say the law is unconstitutional and are now suing state officials.

Before the legislation was put in place, unions could collect dues directly from teacher paychecks, but now that is prohibited. The Florida Education Association feels the governor is unfairly targeting them. DeSantis argues it's in the best interest of teachers, because it'll mean more money in their paychecks.

Just moments after Governor DeSantis signed into law Senate Bill 256, stripping certain powers from teachers' unions, the Florida Education Association filed a federal lawsuit alleging the law violates their First Amendment rights.

"His goal is to take away the ability of educators to speak out. To do this he is taking away our freedom to choose how we want to pay our union dues," Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said.

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The FEA held a virtual news conference Wednesday, one day after filing suit in federal court. The new law prohibits teachers' unions from using government resources to deduct union dues directly from employee paychecks, requires unions to notify teachers of membership costs and requires unions be made up of at least 60% of eligible employees who pay dues instead of the current 50% which is something the FEA calls arbitrary. 

If they can't hit the new benchmark, unions would have to be recertified as bargaining agents.

"They don't know how much is being deducted, and then they start deducting from the paycheck, and what we're saying is that's not appropriate to have automatic deductions. If you want to do it, you can write a check and hand it to them, but what that does, that relieves the pressure off the individual teacher," Governor DeSantis said.

The law also allows for state investigations into unions suspected of fraud. It requires unions to carry out annual audits and financial disclosures, which the FEA says is too costly for smaller unions. They also argue the law is unfairly applied because it exempts unions representing law enforcement, corrections officers, and firefighters.

"I still consider our friends in law enforcement and firefighters friends. I think this is an attempt by the governor to divide," Spar said.

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The suit names Donald Rubottom, the chair of the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission as a defendant as well as commissioners Jeff Aaron and Michael Sasso.

"Clearly, it's going to be good for teachers because if this is something that matters to them, they can do it. It's not saying you can't," DeSantis said.

The lawsuit is ultimately asking the courts to keep the defendants from implementing and enforcing provisions of SB 256. The defendants in the case have yet to respond to the lawsuit as of Wednesday.