May 5, 2023
As the 2023 legislative sessions began across the country, state leaders jockeyed in competitive fashion to address some of the most pressing issues on the minds of voters – made clear by results we saw at the November 2022 ballot. Governor Ron DeSantis won reelection with historic margins, buoyed by voter support for policies he has advanced with the legislature that put parents back in control of their children’s educations, challenge progressive social agendas, keep the economy open for businesses, and ensure that taxpayer resources are protected from coercive corporate and union political agendas. Early in his second term, he announced that Florida would lead nation in protecting the paychecks of public employees – especially teachers – a bill that he’ll likely sign into law in the coming days. However, as the proposal moved through the legislature, other states took note and acted, resulting in 2023 becoming the biggest year for the expansion of worker freedom at the state level in decades.
On April 26, Florida’s House passed paycheck protection legislation with Gov. DeSantis’s backing, which will impact nearly 300,000 employees in the Sunshine State. Once signed into law, these employees shall expect:
- A notice sent regularly about their right to abstain or withdraw from union membership without penalty or fee – a right affirmed in 2018 by the United States Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME
- Information on the cost of union dues
- An end to government’s role in deducting union dues automatically from employee paychecks (except for public safety employees)
- A requirement that unions obtain a minimum 60% membership rate to avoid triggering an election, which would allow public employees a vote on whether that union, a different union, or any union represents them in the workplace. The state will also have more oversight and accountability over ensuring that the unions are accurately reporting their numbers
- A requirement that public unions submit annual audits performed by a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
Other states have embraced some of the same spirit with proposals of their own, with some states even passing reforms before the paycheck protection bill passed the legislature in Florida.
In Kentucky, the legislature not only voted to end the state’s role as bill collector for the teacher’s union, but overrode their Democratic governor’s veto to cement the legislation into law. The Bluegrass State’s achievement came after several years of work to build consensus among legislative leaders and the Republican Caucus, but received a jolt of adrenaline following Gov. DeSantis’s announcement that he would ask his legislature to take up the issue this session.
Similarly, lawmakers in Tennessee have filed legislation for years that sought to remove the state’s role in the teacher union dues collection process, but previous efforts failed to gain traction in the House. After watching the bill die in committee over the last two legislative cycles, Gov. Lee’s team – days after Gov. DeSantis’s press conference outlining his paycheck protection proposal – decided to wrap the dues deduction repeal into his administrative package this year. Lawmakers in the Volunteer State were finally able to overcome past hurdles just two weeks before Florida’s bill passed, and the legislation is now awaiting Gov. Lee’s enthusiastic signature.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders also capitalized on the momentum by swiftly introducing a paycheck protection proposal to end the state’s collection of union dues for teachers. The Republican legislature moved the bill rapidly through their chambers, with Gov. Sanders signing the bill earlier this month.
Oklahoma is currently considering a proposal, passed by the Senate and being debated in the House, which would retain the state’s role in the dues collection process, but require annual proof of consent that employees agree to pay the dues before funds can be withheld from employee paychecks.
The preponderance of state action to reform the union dues collection process – for teachers’ unions in particular, which have a unified dues structure requiring a portion of those dues to be exported to the National Education Association for spending across the country – is record-setting and telling of a bigger story that’s still unfolding.
Florida’s “Cadillac” legislation sets a high standard of excellence for the protection of public employees’ rights, but taken collectively, these latest state efforts are creating tremendous momentum for expanding transparency and accountability around government union activity in the year to come.