TALLAHASSEE — Dealing a blow to teachers unions, a federal judge has refused to block part of a new Florida law that prevents union dues from being deducted from workers’ paychecks.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Friday issued denied a preliminary injunction sought by the Florida Education Association, the United Faculty of Florida and unions representing employees of the Alachua County, Hernando County and Pinellas County school districts and the University of Florida.
The issue centers on perhaps the highest-profile part of a law that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature approved this spring to place additional restrictions on public employee unions. The law prevents government agencies from continuing a decades-old practice of deducting union dues from workers’ paychecks, forcing unions to use other methods to collect money from members.
In seeking the injunction, the education unions argued that the change unconstitutionally violated contracts that require payroll dues deductions. Those contracts were reached before the new law took effect July 1.
Walker agreed with the unions that the “payroll deduction ban has undermined the contractual bargains that their collective bargaining agreements originally struck.”
But Walker concluded that the unions had not persuaded him “that, at this juncture, the challenged provision has substantially interfered with their reasonable expectations regarding their ability to collect dues from payroll deductions.”
He wrote that the unions knew they were subject to state regulation and that “alternative methods of facilitating dues collection” were available to them.
“Unfortunately for plaintiffs, neither the law nor the facts allow this court to confidently conclude that they are entitled to preliminary injunctive relief,” Walker wrote.
The law drew heavy debate during this spring’s legislative session, with union members from throughout the state converging on the Capitol to fight it. Supporters of the law argued that it would increase transparency for union members, but opponents described it as an attempt at union busting.
In addition to preventing payroll-dues deductions, the law includes requiring union members to fill out new government-worded membership forms and requiring unions to be recertified as bargaining agents if fewer than 60% of eligible employees are members.
Unions have filed at least three lawsuits and a state Division of Administrative Hearings case challenging parts of the law.
In seeking the preliminary injunction, attorneys for the unions said the dues-deduction ban was hitting unions financially.
“Plaintiffs are already suffering from a reduction in irreplaceable revenue that is about to get much worse,” the unions argued in a legal memorandum filed in July.
But lawyers for the state wrote, in part, that the unions had not shown the state lacked a “legitimate purpose” in approving the change.