Florida's Teacher Union Fight: the Next Wisconsin?
Florida is becoming a potential new battleground for union rights. New Republican Governor Rick Scott is proposing that teachers in his state contribute five percent to their pensions. Florida teachers rank 47th in the country in salary and the state is facing losing more than a billion dollars in federal stimulus funding.
"We've kept the funding the state put up before, we continue that, but I'm focused on making sure that we measure the effectiveness of teachers," Scott told Fox News Friday. "Our best teachers get paid the best-- the most effective and we give parents as much choice as possible."
But union advocates say the cost of cuts must be shared.
"Workers, public employees have been willing to sacrifice but they can't make the only sacrifice," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told Fox ahead of a rally to support nurses in Washington.
On top of the governor's proposal, Republican lawmakers are proposing legislation that would get rid of collective bargaining for government employees. It would also end automatic union dues deduction by public employers, forbid using dues for political activities and require re-certification for any union with membership below half of the employees it represents by July 1st. That would make it easier for public employees to seek decertification of their unions.
Florida's teachers and schools were in the spotlight Friday as President Obama visited a Miami school that was a good example of a "turnaround" school. The president didn't bring up the labor union fights going on in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida, but did note the hard work it takes to reform a school.
"So outstanding teachers and principals, a common mission, a culture of high expectations, that's what it takes to turn a school around," Obama said. The president was speaking about education and innovation in the future, a theme he has addressed several times this year.
He was joined by former Republican Governor Jeb Bush, who is credited with reform efforts in public and private school choices and expanding charter schools, although some critics charged that he was anti-union.
Labor unions have been supportive of Obama, starting with his campaign bid, but it hasn't always been a smooth relationship. He clashed with teachers unions when he backed the mass firing of teachers at an underperforming public school.
When asked if the AFL-CIO is disappointed in Obama, Trumka didn't think so. "[I]t's very important that the middle class knows that the president is on their side and he's said that he's on their side on numerous occasions."
But Obama's appearance with Bush, a conservative governor who fought teachers' unions as part of his education reform platform did make some local union members uneasy.
"We were dismayed to learn of it. I'm sure no parent or teacher in Florida can understand it, especially in light of the former governor's comments about devious plans to subvert the will of voters," said Karen Aronowitz, United Teachers of Dade.
Political observers are watching if Ohio or Florida will be the next Wisconsin, a state still embroiled in union fights.
Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker issued notices to public worker unions notifying them of possible layoffs in early April if Democrats and GOP lawmakers can't reach a decision on how to handle pensions and collective bargaining.
Fox News' Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.