In a frantic attempt to preserve its monopoly over the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, attorneys for the Florida 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, using an argument that would invalidate its own petition, asked a hearing officer with Florida’s Public Employee Relations Commission 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% of the total bargaining unit.

The statute stripped dozens of smaller Florida unions of their certification in the ensuing months, and now the United Teachers of Dade—one of the country’s largest teachers unions—is facing the same fate after an independent audit in December found only 56% 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, has requested its name appear on the same ballot. On March 11, the Miami-Dade Education Coalition arrived at the Public Employee Relations Committee’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.

The United Teachers of Dade, however, filed a response in which its lawyers argue state laws only permit the Miami-Dade Education Coalition to participate in a certification election, not a recertification election.

The union is flat-out wrong about that.

The United Teachers of Dade’s legal argument is fundamentally flawed. According to Florida Statutes § 447.305(6), the guidelines for certification laid out in § 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, United Teachers of Dade attorneys insist the Miami-Dade Education Coalition is ineligible to participate in the recertification election, despite its compliance with applicable statutes.

Even more puzzling, the United Teachers of Dade itself is already using the certification procedures set forth in § 447.307 (2) and (3) in its petition for recertification. Yet, it asks the Public Employee Relations Commission to selectively permit the United Teachers of Dade’s use of the certification process while denying the Miami-Dade Education Coalition use of the same process for its motion to intervene.

This creates the possibility of two outcomes:

  1. The Public Employee Relations Committee disagrees with the United Teachers of Dade and both unions appear on the same election ballot; or,
  2. The Public Employee Relations Committee agrees with the United Teachers of Dade and has no choice but to apply the same standard to both unions.

To put it mildly, this is an incredibly irresponsible move by the United Teachers of Dade, because it puts the Public Employee Relations Commission in the position of determining whether Florida law applies to both petitions or neither.

If it applies to both, the Miami-Dade Education Coalition is as entitled to participate in the coming election as the United Teachers of Dade. If not, the Public Employee Relations Commission lacks any framework to process the United Teachers of Dade’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 the Miami-Dade Education Coalition 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, the United Teachers of Dade 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 the Miami-Dade Education Coalition—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 the Miami-Dade Education Coalition 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 the Miami-Dade Education Coalition use members’ hard-earned wages to fund political candidates and causes those members may not agree with.

Simply put, the Miami-Dade Education Coalition embodies the true vision of what the United Teachers of Dade 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, the United Teachers of Dade is showing exactly why it was necessary.

Instead of attacking its accusers, the United Teachers of Dade 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 the United Teachers of Dade’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.

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

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