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Florida AG Moody Takes Legal Action Against Biden Admin On Union Law Retaliation

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody took legal action Wednesday against the Biden administration for retaliation against Florida’s new law to prevent unions from exploiting workers.
President Joe Biden

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody took legal action Wednesday against the Biden administration for retaliation against Florida’s new law to prevent unions from exploiting workers.

According to Moody’s office, the action is over the federal government’s unconstitutional interpretation of a federal rule concerning collective bargaining rights, resulting in a loss of critical funds for Florida.

Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature passed SB 256, a landmark package that enables public workers, like teachers, to make more informed and deliberate decisions on whether to join a union and prohibits unions from forcing due withdrawals directly from employees’ paychecks.

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According to Moody’s Office the Biden administration issued Florida an ultimatum, specifically over transportation workers—abandon the reforms enacted through SB 256 or lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

According to the Florida Public Transportation Association, the Biden administration’s actions threaten more than $800 million to the state of Florida.

Moody said, “Florida passed laws to protect workers from being strong-armed by unions. Biden, intent on driving our country into the ground, continues to try to force states to implement his bad policies. As long as I am Florida’s Attorney General, Washington will never decide how we run our state. We’re pushing back against this overreach to protect our state’s autonomy and Florida workers.”

According to the complaint for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief filed by Florida, the Biden administration is attempting to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding over an unconstitutional interpretation of the Federal Transit Act.

Moody is taking legal action to protect the state’s access to critical funding and its sovereign prerogative to regulate in the realm of collective bargaining.

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SB 256 made certain changes to collective bargaining in Florida: first, public employees who wish to be represented by a union must sign a membership authorization form; second, SB 256 eliminates the status of government employers as bill collectors and middlemen between public employees and unions; and third, the law reforms how the Public Employees Relations Commission determines if a union is eligible to serve as the exclusive bargaining agent for a class of employees. 

The complaint states: “These reforms are designed to ensure that public employees in Florida make a conscious and deliberate decision regarding their constitutional right to participate or not participate in a union. They are also designed to ensure that public sector unions granted the significant power to act as the ‘exclusive bargaining agent’ for a class of public employees have the support of a critical threshold (60%) of those employees.” 

The complaint also states: “To be clear, Florida has no intention of abolishing the collective bargaining rights of transportation workers…the Biden Administration reads the phrase ‘continuation of collective bargaining rights’ in § 5333(b) to mean that Florida cannot enact reasonable regulations governing the collective bargaining process, such as those the Legislature enacted earlier this year in Senate Bill 256 (SB 256). The Department of Labor’s application of § 5333(b) to the State of Florida is flagrantly unconstitutional.”

The complaint argues that the federal government’s interpretation of the FTA, and threat to withhold funding from Florida, is in violation of the Spending Clause and Administrative Procedure Act.

Judge Refuses To Block Florida Teacher’s Union Dues Deduction Ban

Last month, a federal judge refused to block part of a new Florida law that prevents union dues from being deducted from workers’ paychecks.

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, on September 25, issued a 40-page ruling denying a preliminary injunction sought by the Florida Education Association, the United Faculty of Florida, and unions representing employees of the Alachua County, Hernando County and Pinellas County school districts and the University of Florida.

The issue centers on perhaps the highest-profile part of a law that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature approved this spring to place additional restrictions on public-employee unions. The law prevents government agencies from continuing a decades-old practice of deducting union dues from workers’ paychecks — forcing unions to use other methods to collect money from members.

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In seeking the injunction, the education unions argued that the change unconstitutionally violated contracts that require payroll dues deductions. Those contracts were reached before the new law took effect July 1.

Walker agreed with the unions that the “payroll deduction ban has undermined the contractual bargains that their collective bargaining agreements originally struck.”

But Walker concluded that the unions had not persuaded him “that, at this juncture, the challenged provision has substantially interfered with their reasonable expectations regarding their ability to collect dues from payroll deductions.” He wrote that the unions knew they were subject to state regulation and that “alternative methods of facilitating dues collection” were available to them.

“Unfortunately for plaintiffs, neither the law nor the facts allow this court to confidently conclude that they are entitled to preliminary injunctive relief,” Walker wrote. “Instead, this court is faced with evidence that demonstrates that plaintiffs justifiably expected to receive dues through payroll deductions during the life of their collective bargaining agreements because, prior to July 1, 2023, the right to have public employers facilitate the collection of dues through that mechanism was enshrined in the Florida statutes. But the evidence also demonstrates that plaintiffs are operating in a highly regulated field in Florida, including with respect to the asserted right to payroll deductions.”

Walker added that the “now-eliminated statutory right to collect dues through payroll deduction was subject to certain qualifications. And the record shows plaintiffs expected that the Legislature could take action that would invalidate provisions in their collective bargaining agreements. Some plaintiffs even negotiated for provisions allowing for renegotiation upon the invalidation of a term through legislative action.”

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Friday’s ruling came nearly three months after Walker rejected an earlier motion for a preliminary injunction in the case. In a June 26 decision, Walker ruled unions had not shown they had legal standing.

Attorneys for the unions then revised the lawsuit to try to address Walker’s concerns. While he found in Friday’s decision that some of the unions had established standing, he turned down the second injunction request for other reasons.

The law drew heavy debate during this spring’s legislative session, with union members from throughout the state converging on the Capitol to fight it. Supporters of the law argued, in part, that it would increase transparency for union members, but opponents described it as an attempt at “union busting.”

In addition to preventing payroll-dues deductions, the law includes requiring union members to fill out new government-worded membership forms and requiring unions to be recertified as bargaining agents if fewer than 60 percent of eligible employees are members.

Unions have filed at least three lawsuits and a state Division of Administrative Hearings case challenging parts of the law.

Defendants in the case before Walker include members of the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission, members of the University of Florida Board of Trustees and the school boards in Alachua, Pinellas and Hernando counties. The Public Employees Relations Commission is in charge of carrying out the law.

In seeking the preliminary injunction, attorneys for the unions said the dues-deduction ban was hitting unions financially.

“Plaintiffs are already suffering from a reduction in irreplaceable revenue that is about to get much worse,” the unions argued in a legal memorandum filed in July.

But lawyers for the state wrote, in part, that the unions had not shown the state lacked a “legitimate purpose” in approving the change.

“At this stage, Florida asserts the significant and legitimate public purpose of increasing transparency and ensuring public employees are fully informed about the dues they are paying their unions,” the state’s lawyers wrote last month. “Courts have readily concluded that similar public purposes justify state laws that substantially impair public contracts.”

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