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Aaron Sharockman
By Aaron Sharockman April 13, 2011

Teacher group claims 'paycheck protection' bills strip away teacher rights

Bills that would prohibit government unions from collecting dues through automated payroll deductions and require unions to get authorizations from members to use their dues for political purposes has produced dueling ads from the Florida Chamber of Commerce -- which supports the idea -- and the Florida Education Association -- which opposes it.

In a previous item, we looked at the chamber's ad and rated a claim False that unions "take away" union members' money, noting that union membership in Florida is voluntary and that the chamber ad uses misleading imagery.

Now, we're looking at the teachers union response.

On April 6, 2011, the union launched an ad featuring Leon County elementary school teacher Jamie Bellamy. The ad opens with a clip from the chamber's ad, then shows Bellamy standing in a classroom. Here's what she says.

"Don't be fooled, this ad doesn't support teachers.

"The special interests behind it are playing politics with my paycheck. Politicians and their corporate lobbyists are trying to take away my right to spend my paycheck how I want.

"They shouldn't be telling any of us how to spend our money nor deny anyone the right to be heard. That's what this issue's really about. Politicians denying teachers the same rights as everyone else."

In this fact-check, we wanted to focus on the FEA's claim that the bills -- SB 830 and its House companion HB 1021 -- take away teachers' rights to spend their paycheck how they want.

As in other items on this subject, we think some explanation of the proposal is warranted since the ad offers little.

Supporters of the legislation call the idea "paycheck protection," and say it gives individual union members more power over how their dues money is spent. The law would do two basic things. First, it would prohibit public unions from utilizing payroll deductions, and second, it would require unions to get annual authorizations from members to use their dues for political reasons. The bills essentially would allow workers to be members of the union but opt out of the political arm of the organization. Opponents argue that the House and Senate bills are akin to union busting because it will make it more difficult for unions to collect dues.

Opponents also say the bills single out unions when more than 360 organizations currently are authorized by the state to deduct money from workers' paychecks. (That's what Bellamy is trying to get at in the last line of the ad).

The bill passed the House 73-40 on March 25, and is pending in the Senate.

The question in this fact check, again, is does the legislation take away teachers' rights -- and the rights of other government union members -- to spend their paycheck how they want?

The answer is no.

The bills only eliminates a method by which union members can spend the money in their paycheck -- automated payroll deduction.

Payroll deduction is common for workers. Employees have money taken out of their paychecks to pay for all kinds of things. Some deductions are voluntary: student loans, charitable donations, health insurance, life insurance, union dues. Some deductions are not: taxes, alimony and other court-ordered actions. The state of Florida currently has 364 groups or agencies that have the ability to take money directly from employees' paychecks. Here's the entire list provided to PolitiFact Florida by the state Chief Financial Officer's Office.

The bills would remove unions from that list, but it would not prevent them from collecting dues, or from members directing money to the union if they chose.

The legislation also does not prohibit union members from using their union fees for political activities.

Without the ability to use payroll deductions, unions would have to find another way to collect union dues -- possibly through an automated deduction set-up between the union and members' individual banks, or maybe through members writing checks.

"We sought to point out that the legislation in question seeks to stop unions -- and only unions – from using payroll deduction," said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow. "Florida is a right-to-work state and members choose to join a union and pay dues of their own free will. No one forces them to do so. The same can be said of all of the other goods and services that teachers and other government employees may purchase through payroll deduction."

"What Jamie Bellamy says in the ad reflects these ideas. Her choice, and the choice of every other public-sector employee in the state, to use payroll deduction as an easy and convenient way to pay their union dues would be taken away if this legislation passes. She would still have the choice to use payroll deduction for dozens of other services – just not to belong to a professional organization that speaks on behalf of her profession."

But Bellamy said something different in the ad.

SB 830 and HB 1021 likely will make it more difficult for unions to collect dues, and more burdensome for workers to contribute to their union. But the bills do not stop union members from doing it. The FEA's ad said "politicians and their corporate lobbyists are trying to take away my right to spend my paycheck how I want." But the bills passed by the House and under consideration in the Senate only would change the method, not take away the right all together. We rate this claim False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

HB 1021, accessed April 12, 2011

SB 830, accessed April 12, 2011

Florida Chamber of Commerce advertisement, March 29, 2011

Florida Education Association, response ad, April 6, 2011

E-mail interview with Mark Pudlow, FEA spokesman, April 12, 2011

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Teacher group claims 'paycheck protection' bills strip away teacher rights

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