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Why union recertification laws promote democracy


Last year, Florida passed a law that automatically removes a teachers’ union as representative if less than half of educators pay dues to it. Now unions in two school districts have been decertified as a result:

The Jefferson County Education Association [JCEA] was de-certified because it failed to file any information after the Florida Board of Education mandated it be operated by Somerset Academy, a nonprofit charter school company, as part of a five-year “turnaround plan” for the “failing” district.

Santa Rosa Professional Educators [SRPE] had its certification revoked after it reported only 644 of 2,055 district “instructional” employees were due-paying members.

The idea of holding regular workplace elections so employees can choose to keep or remove a union first took off in Wisconsin in 2011, as part of its major collective bargaining reform. There, government employees must vote every year, and a union stays in place if 51 percent of workers in a bargaining unit vote to keep it. 

In 2017, Iowa passed a similar provision that requires a recertification vote with each new contract. And as we noted above, Florida mandated regular workplace elections as well in 2018.

Opponents of “recertification” laws argue that they are simply a ploy to weaken unions. But that view tends to ignore how regular elections protect workers by empowering them to select the representation they want—just as we do for the U.S. president or for lawmakers. And the fact is, in Pennsylvania’s largest school districts, barely 1 percent of teachers even got a chance to vote for their current union.

Unions are elected representatives, and elected representatives have to prove their worth to members. In Florida, that’s already happening: for the Santa Rosa union slated to be decertified, leaders have already collected enough “interest” cards from teachers to hold a fresh representation election. 

In other words: union reps talked to teachers and convinced them that Santa Rosa Professional Educators provides valuable services. By contrast, when unions became huge, remote, and bureaucratic, they lose members. (Incidentally, “local-only” unions—like ones in Memphis and Cincinnati that we’ve profiled–tend to be more responsive and accountable to their members than the large state/national ones). 

Holding regular elections may take more time and resources, but we know they are a critical element of democratic government. That’s the same whether the election takes place in a school district or an entire country.

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