A Florida law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last May has the nation’s third-largest teachers union facing what was once unthinkable — extinction.
The United Teachers of Dade — which represents 25,000 Miami school workers — has suddenly found itself scrambling for survival after nearly 50 years at the helm.
“This is a very real existential threat,” said Allison Beattie, Director of Labor Relations at the Freedom Foundation, a conservative union watchdog. “This would be a blow not just to this union, but to the influence of teachers unions across the country.”
Asserting that educator unions were increasingly out of touch with their members, DeSantis passed legislation that ended the practice of automatically deducting dues from paychecks.
Instead, teachers who found value in their labor representation were able to send in the monies on their own.
The law went further, mandating that a union must have at least 60% of its bargaining unit paying dues — or face dissolution.
“If they don’t have a majority of the teachers who are actually signing up to pay dues, it should be decertified,” DeSantis said in Dec. 2022. “You shouldn’t be able to continue as a zombie organization that doesn’t have the support of the people you are supposedly negotiating for.”
Most observers were largely dismissive of DeSantis’ rhetoric at the time, arguing that his anti-union polemics pleased his base but would produce few tangible results.
But one year later, the Sunshine State’s largest and most powerful teachers union is now up against the wall.
The organization failed to satisfy the 60% threshold in November, logging a contribution rate of just 56%. The anemic returns, union critics contend, were a clear reflection of member dissatisfaction.
But Randi Weingarten, who heads the national American Federation of Teachers union, accused supporters of the legislation — including the Freedom Foundation — of hostility to public education and unions in general.
“Freedom Foundation, associated with Betsy DeVos and Gov. DeSantis, are spending a boatload of money to union bust United Teachers of Dade in Miami b/c they want to destroy public education & unions,” she tweeted in November.
A UTD spokesperson called the law “onerous” and “anti-worker.”
The group’s president, Karla Hernandez-Mats, said it triggered “intentionally created chaos” that made reaching the threshold more difficult.
But Beattie maintained that union members have become disillusioned with their representation for a host of reasons, from failing to address paltry salaries to overt political partisanship.
Teacher pay has become a searing issue in Florida, where educators can make as little as $50,000 a year after decades of service and struggle to pay rent, let alone support a family.
Others, Beattie said, have become alienated by what they see as blanket union promotion of progressive political ideals.
“They want the union out of politics altogether,” she said. “They don’t want their union dues going one way or another.”
A veteran Miami teacher told The Post that she is more concerned with matters like pay, pension and working conditions than the state’s culture wars.
“We want our union to fight for the basics,” she said. “We’re not getting it, and people are fed up. When you are struggling to buy groceries or you have to deal with fights every 10 minutes at your school, your focus is not on the political issue of the day.”
The UTD is now in a state of limbo.
For it to survive, the union first must get 30% of its members to formally express interest in a new vote to determine who will be certified to represent Miami’s teachers.
But a new organization has emerged to challenge its supremacy, touting itself as a staunchly apolitical alternative.
“UTD labor leaders used our union dues to pay high salaries for themselves and lined the pockets of politicians instead of supporting the educators they are supposed to represent,” the Miami-Dade Education Coalition states on its website.
As a newcomer to the scene, the Freedom Foundation-backed MDEC is only required to gather 10% of district school staffers to appear on the ballot.
The UTD and AFT did not respond to requests for comment.