Third Largest Teachers’ Union Faces Demise of Its Own Making

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Written By Maya Cantina

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This story originally was published by Real Clear Wire

By Brent Urbanik
Real Clear Wire

In a frantic attempt to preserve its monopoly over the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, attorneys for the union currently representing the district’s 24,000-plus teachers and support staff are relying on a strategy that has the potential to backfire and leave its members without workplace representation altogether.

On March 18, United Teachers of Dade (UTD), using an argument that would invalidate its own petition, asked a hearing officer with Florida’s Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) to reject a competing union’s bid to participate in a forthcoming election to determine the bargaining representative for the South Florida educators.

The election is the result of a law passed by the state’s legislature last May requiring a recertification vote for government employee unions whose paid membership falls below 60 percent of the total bargaining unit.

The statute stripped dozens of smaller Florida unions of their certification in the ensuing months, and now UTD — one of the country’s largest teacher’s unions — is facing the same fate after an independent audit in December found only 56 percent of the defined bargaining unit were paying dues.

The recertification vote has not yet been scheduled, but in the meantime a startup union, dubbed the Miami-Dade Education Coalition (MDEC), has requested its name appear on the same ballot. On March 11, MDEC arrived at PERC’s headquarters in Tallahassee with 2,564 showing-of-interest cards — far more than needed under the agency’s regulations to ensure the new union a spot on the ballot.

UTD, however, filed a response in which its lawyers argue state laws only permit MDEC to participate in a certification election, not a re-certification election.

The union is flat-out wrong about that.

UTD’s legal argument is fundamentally flawed. According to Fla. Stat. § 447.305(6), the guidelines for certification laid out in Fla. Stat. § 447.307(2) and (3) apply to recertification efforts as well, and therefore permit another employee organization to intervene in the representation election process.

Despite this clarity, UTD attorneys insist MDEC is ineligible to participate in the recertification election, despite MDEC’s compliance with applicable statutes.

Even more puzzling, UTD itself is already using the certification procedures set forth in § 447.307(2) and (3) in its petition for recertification. Yet it asks PERC to selectively permit UTD’s use of the certification process while denying MDEC use of the same process for its motion to intervene.

This creates the possibility of two outcomes:

  1. PERC disagrees with UTD and both unions appear on the same election ballot; or,
  2. PERC agrees with UTD and has no choice but to apply the same standard to both unions.

To put it mildly, this is an incredibly irresponsible move by UTD because it puts PERC in the position of determining whether Florida law applies to both petitions or neither.

If it applies to both, MDEC is as entitled to participate in the coming election as UTD. If not, PERC lacks any framework to process UTD’s “recertification” petition at all, and the union’s certification would be revoked.

You heard that right. The union would be officially finished of its own doing. Its leaders would have denied MDEC a chance to intervene but destroyed their own union in the process.

As a seasoned educator in Miami, I find myself unsurprised by the predictable reaction of the union to a quandary it directly caused. This incident merely adds to the extensive track record of ineptitude showcased by this union throughout its history.

Time and again UTD faltered when representing the bargaining unit, from failing to contest the school district’s decision to eliminate step raises to refusing to adequately address problematic working conditions.

For this reason, a group of like-minded educators established MDEC — with the objective of maintaining a laser-focus on issues concerning the wages, benefits and working conditions of Miami-Dade teachers and staff.

Under our administration, membership dues will be much lower because MDEC will have no affiliation with the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers.  Thus, millions of dollars will not be diverted to national headquarters, nor will MDEC use members’ hard-earned wages to fund political candidates and causes those members may not agree with.

Simply put, MDEC embodies the true vision of what UTD originally should have been, but never lived up to. The whole point of the new recertification requirement is to make public-sector unions more accountable. By its actions, UTD is showing exactly why it was necessary.

Instead of attacking its accusers, UTD should be cleaning up its own act.  It should be taking responsibility for the corruption and incompetence that has cost it nearly half its paid membership.

Its inability or unwillingness to do so unmistakably highlights why UTD’s incompetent rule must end. Miami-Dade educators should seize the chance to vote for a union that embodies the original purpose for unions: prioritizing wages, benefits, and working conditions.

Brent Urbanik is a teacher in the Miami-Dade school district and president of the Miami Dade Education Coalition.

This article was originally published by RealClearFlorida and made available via RealClearWire.


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