Union bill limps through Senate panelby John Kennedy | March 14th, 2011
A measure pushed by the state’s former Republican Party chairman which creates major roadblocks on the political activity of Democratic-allied unions, was narrowly approved Monday by a Senate committee.
Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who last year led the state’s GOP in campaigns which tightened the party’s grip on power in Florida, said the measure is designed to “empower unions,” while also severing the role of state and local governments in collecting union payroll deductions.
“I frankly don’t understand the concerns,” Thrasher said, after a parade of union representatives testified before the Senate Community Affairs Committee against the bill (CS/SB 830).
The panel approve the meaure 5-4, with Republican Sens. Paula Dockery of Lakeland and Jim Norman of Tampa joining a pair of Democrats in opposition.
“This is nothing more than an attempt to eradicate the voice of union members,” said Jeff McAdams, a union representative for the Gainesville Police Department and Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.
The legislation would make it more difficult for unions to draw financing by barring state or local governments, including school boards, from deducting or collecting union dues, ending what has been a common practice for decades.
It also would allow any public employee who didn’t specifically authorize how deductions are used to demand a partial refund of any political spending.
Union representatives testified virtually unanimously against the measure. Florida business groups, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business, lined up in support of the measure.
Thrasher, whose Democratic opponent last fall was strongly backed by the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, insisted there was nothing personal — or political in the bill.
“But I have heard fron taxpayers,” Thrasher said. “They think these (government) resources should not be used to facilitate private political agendas.”