Unions put the brakes on rail dealby Dara Kam | November 27th, 2009
Next week’s special session to prove the state’s commitment to commuter rail could go nowhere without concessions to unions.
Senate President Jeff Atwater is trying to round up support for a Central Florida commuter line by linking it to a financial fix for the flailing Tri-Rail to draw down federal money for a third project, a high-speed line linking Tampa, Orlando and Miami.
The bill’s been negotiated by House and Senate leaders and the governor’s office behind closed doors throughout the month.
But Atwater’s ability to pass the measure in the Senate could hinge on two key Democratic senators: Democratic Leader Al Lawson of Tallahassee and Tony Hill of Jacksonville.
The labor unions were part of a coalition that killed the Central Florida SunRail deal despite backing from powerful GOP lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Crist.
Now the unions are pressuring Lawson and Hill to oppose the measure that is expected to include a provision that would allow SunRail to operate without union workers and do away with some Tri-Rail union jobs.
It might be hard for Lawson and Hill to turn their backs on the unions next week.
A union endorsement would help Lawson in his campaign against incumbent U.S. Rep. Allan Boyd, a long-serving Democrat from outside Tallahassee who earned the wrath of the unions by voting against the health care reform package.
And the congressional district Lawson’s trying to win is home to thousands of state workers, who typically vote in elections.
Hill, a longshoreman and union organizer, is considered organized labor’s go-to-guy in the legislature.
The draft legislation is a departure from what the unions had agreed to in principle earlier in the month, according to a draft document obtained by The Palm Beach Post.
But a revision last week amounts to “government-enabled union busting,” according to a press release issued by the AFL-CIO today.