TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Labor reported a few wins in the 2-to-1 Republican Florida legislature, while fighting anti-worker initiatives by both rank-and-file lawmakers and right-wing Gov. Rick Scott, a wealthy former hospital chain CEO.

A laundry list of legislation released by the Florida AFL-CIO showed a ban on project labor agreements on state-funded construction failed. So did a move to automatically decertify public worker unions when they “fall below 50 percent active membership,” as did a “paycheck protection” measure. “Paycheck protection” is not about protecting paychecks; it’s about preventing unions from using funds which come from dues paid by workers) to help elect people who will stand up for workers.

Also failing: An anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic “identification” bill, modeled on Arizona’s drastic law, which lets local law enforcement officers stop anyone they suspect of being undocumented and force them to produce immediate proof of legal residence – or face arrest and deportation.

But in neighboring Georgia, the 3-to-2 GOP majorities in the legislature passed, and GOP Gov. Nathan Deal signed, an anti-immigrant law similar to Arizona’s. The Obama administration, following the lead of several unions – notably the Service Employees International Union – and the American Civil Liberties Union, has challenged and stopped Arizona’s law in court.

“The 2011 legislative session was one of the most damaging in Florida’s history,” the state AFL-CIO said in a summary. “Working families, the unemployed and the impoverished faced numerous assaults in the continuing drive to make the rich richer and give more power to the powerful. This legislature did nothing to fix our economic problems and create the jobs we desperately need.

“Fortunately, a brave group of Democrats and Republicans stood up for the basic American principles of fair play and freedom of association to beat back attempts to silence organized labor in Florida. This ensures that workers will still have an opportunity to organize, speak with a unified voice, and fully participate in the political process.”

State AFL-CIO President Mike Williams said the GOP’s “attempts to silence Florida’s unions brought together workers from all walks of life to create the strongest labor coalition in the history of Florida.” He promised “we will hit the ground running in an aggressive campaign to right the wrongs committed during the past 60 days.”

But the wins he cited were overshadowed by other losses. They included imposing so-called “merit pay” systems on teachers statewide and capping state revenues, similar to an infamous “taxpayer bill of rights” restriction that hobbled Colorado for a decade before its repeal. Lawmakers cut jobless benefits by 54 percent and made it easier for employers to deny benefits to fired workers. They also cut pensions for newly hired state workers, and changed local police and fire fighters’ pensions.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.