Florida, Unions and Friedrichs

The unions are stepping up their public barrage against Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which could end the collection of agency fees by public sector unions nationwide. NEA, AFT, SEIU and AFSCME will formally complain to Senate Democrat staffers today, and we can expect more tales of woe like this one, claiming Friedrichs “threatens to make it even harder for working people to negotiate for wages, benefits and public services.”

Both sides seem to think the case will turn the rest of America into Wisconsin, where public sector union membership fell off a cliff. But they forget that Act 10 also restricted the scope of collective bargaining and required recertification of bargaining agents every year. Friedrichs would do none of that. The model for the short-term future is Florida.

Florida allows public sector collective bargaining and exclusive representation, but not agency fees. The Florida Education Association is, to my knowledge, the only union representing K-12 teachers and education support employees in the state. It lobbies, negotiates contracts, files grievances and practices political advocacy in a way indistinguishable from NEA and AFT affiliates in New York, Illinois or California.

In fact, the only way you would know that Florida’s law was different is by examining FEA’s membership “market share.”

Rounding numbers that were current as of August 31, 2015, there were 175,000 Florida K-12 teachers and 65,000 support employees eligible to become FEA members. Of these, 93,000 teachers and 23,000 support employees chose to do so. That’s slightly more than 48 percent. An examination of several FEA locals indicates that very few have a majority of the bargaining unit as members.

How can a union continue in such an environment? Simple. Exclusive representation is far more valuable than agency fees. Maybe 52 percent of K-12 education employees aren’t contributing financially to the union, but they are quiescent. Were they to organize, they have the numbers to replace FEA with another union, do without, or create some other means to interact with district management. In Nevada, the Education Support Employees Association is desperately hanging onto exclusive status even though it could muster only 1,500 votes in a bargaining unit of almost 11,000.

Imagine if there were competition in the teacher representation market. Maybe unions would be forced to improve productivity, cut waste, and provide better services than a rival. Wouldn’t that be terrible for working people.