In the face of this challenge, public-sector unions across the state are working to find creative ways to collect dues through electronic banking applications. They’re also mobilizing to help all teachers and other public employees understand the importance of becoming dues-paying union members.
“We are in constant communication with teachers, and a lot of our members are stepping up and talking to their colleagues about how important this is,” Hernández-Mats notes. “They’re talking about how the state could make us ‘at-will’ employees and how this bill could turn our public schools into a revolving door where no one is committed to education.”
Florida currently stands 48th in the nation when it comes to teacher pay and, not surprisingly, is facing a massive teacher shortage, opening 2023 with over 5,000 vacancies. Weakening unions, Hernández-Mats believes, will only exacerbate the crisis and speed the larger right-wing agenda to defund public education.
Another bill signed into Florida law this year advances that agenda by expanding the state’s charter school voucher program, a move that will allow parents to opt out of public schools and send their children to private schools on the state dime. This “school choice” bill will cost the state an estimated $4 billion in funding and starve local school districts. In the Tampa Bay area, for example, almost $850 million will be routed out of public schools for the 2023-2024 school year.
Florida hasn’t always been a testing ground for attacks on public educators and their unions. In fact, back in 1968, educators in Florida staged the nation’s first successful statewide teacher strike to protest chronic school funding shortages and bargain-basement teacher pay. But today the Florida Constitution and state law bar teachers from striking and threaten “hefty penalties” if they do.
That reality has the current struggle against the DeSantis attack on public education and public educators going down a different lane. The statewide teacher union, the Florida Education Association, has just filed a lawsuit in federal court to prevent the implementation of the newly signed DeSantis legislation.
Governor DeSantis, says FEA president Andrew Spar, “has made it clear that he is targeting educators because we exercise our constitutional right to speak out against attempts by this governor and others to stymie the freedom to learn and to stifle freedom of thought.”
The governor, adds Spar, “is using this legislation to retaliate against his critics,” a retaliation “very similar to what we’ve seen in the attacks on Disney.”
DeSantis, a still-unannounced candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, has ample resources for continuing his offensive against unions and their support for higher taxes on the rich to fund better public services. DeSantis, as an analysis in one of Florida’s top daily newspapers detailed last year, has “extraordinary” billionaire support.