Florida Teachers Association opposing new bill as attack on unions

By Andrew McDaniel | gargoyle@flagler.edu

Debbie Etheredge, president of the St. Johns County Education Association, is concerned about a new Senate bill (SB 830) that would cease teachers’ payroll deductions for union dues.

Before accepting the position with the Florida Teachers Association, Etheredge taught for 27 years. She said she sees a lot of problems for unions in this proposed bill.

“They’re trying to silence our voice, and we are the working people of St. Johns County,” Etheredge said. “We’re the working people of Florida. We’re the middle class, and they are trying to silence us.”

Sen. John Thrasher, of Florida’s district 8, proposed the bill. When contacted for an interview, Sen. Thrasher declined to comment.

According to The Florida Senate’s website, the bill would prohibit “a county, municipality, or other local governmental entity from deducting from employee wages the dues, uniform assessments, fines, penalties, or special assessments of an employee organization or contributions made for purposes of political activity.”

Etheredge said she is opposed to this legislation. She said she believes the bill is bad for more than just teachers in the union.

“Not only for teachers but for firemen and police men and all of the public servants, they are going to do away with automatic deduction,” Etheredge said. “What that means is it will just make it harder for us. It’s a form of union bashing.” 

Janet Conner, the regional manager of the Florida Education Association, shares Etheredge’s views.

“I’m not willing to say that we’ll be silenced, but it certainly is a strong attempt to keep us from having a chance to speak for kids,” she said.

Conner said she sees the bill as an attempt to take money from education.

 “If there is nobody to speak for kids, then the profiteers who are trying to get their hands on every bit of the state’s budget for state education will be free to do what they want to do,” Conner said.

This Senate bill would also change some of the policies regarding strikes. 

According to the bill, a striking organization that violates these new provisions could be fined “up to $20,000 for each calendar day of such violation or determine the approximate cost to the public due to each calendar day of the strike.”

Etheredge said she believes that these provisions also apply to discussing political views with union members.

“We won’t be able to contact members about anything political,” she said. “For example, if we know this bill is out there that could cut us in half, then we couldn’t contact members about it at all.”

Senate bill 830 has been referred to Community Affairs and the Governmental Oversight and Accountability committee for further review.

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