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Why Florida Students and Teachers Need House Bill 11

Florida Representative Scott Plakon (R-Longwood) filed House Bill 11 late February which seeks to reform unions with ailing memberships below 50%.

A Senate companion bill, Senate Bill 1292, was filed earlier in the week by Senator Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala).

Unions representing law enforcement, correctional officers, and firefighters are exempt from this legislation, but they maintain over 90% membership given that they adequately represent their members and would not have anything to worry about if they were not exempted.

The unions that would be impacted by this legislation would be teachers’ unions, namely the United Teachers of Dade – often regarded and termed the “Useless Teachers of Dade” by some of their members. Their membership density is around 44%; if clerical and security were not factored, the density would be much lower.

As expected, UTD put out an email meant to scare the membership and to increase their numbers. They claim the Contract would be voided, yet the legislation does not explicitly say that.

As Shawn Beightol points out in an email, what would the bargaining unit have to lose by the demise of UTD given that they seemingly collaborated and colluded with Miami-Dade County Public Schools on a horrendous evaluation system (IPEGS), loss and elimination of salary steps and the grandfathered schedule, reduced services, increased class sizes, lack of representation, etc.

Criticism of UTD is rampant on an M-DCPS Facebook Group:

Mario Morales:

The Union sure has balls. They sent out an email asking for support against an “anti union legislation” that was introduced recently. So I’m thinking, “get us our raises that you have sold us out on, and our steps that you agreed with MDCPS to eliminate and then, only then, will I CONSIDER supporting you.”

Andrew Beninati:

Well written. I dropped the union back around 2006 when they signed that tentative 3 year contract that was based on state funds, or something like that. I knew then it would never come to fruition. They then froze our salaries for 3 years. I saved, and continue to give myself a raise by not contributing.”

Isaac Castineira:

UTD has some how managed to delete their google reviews. So I felt obligated to refresh my review and here it is. I hope you would join me and post your google review of UTD.

I am the son of a teamster and believe in the power of unions. But UTD is not a union, it is group of individuals that give excuses for their repeated failures and collect dues. I would give zero stars if that was an option. They have a history of selling its members out for some unknown reason. On the 2015 contract they eliminated the step schedule even though the law was on their side? So teachers with years vested in the step schedule are now left guessing how much they will be making at the end of their careers. Way to go UTD. So if you like throwing your money away then join.

Jose Cernada:

I’m still a member and I’m seriously thinking about dropping my membership. This Union is a joke and a total travesty. I feel totally misrepresented by them. This UTD President and her staff do absolutely nothing to defend teachers. They ought to be sued for misrepresenting their members. I feel I’ve been scammed out of my hard earned money for all these years.”

Some people may ask why not seek changes within UTD through the electoral process or activism?

Members like Shawn Beightol, Trevor Colestock, Eugenio Perez, and Ceresta Smith have tried but unfortunately failed as UTD is resistant against change as they seemingly want to collect dues and not provide effective services in return.

Shawn Beightol and Ronald Beasley tried to reform UTD, but they were brought up on charges and expelled from the union.

Trevor Colestock, a 17-year member and former steward, exposed a massive cheating scandal at Miami Norland Senior High School, and was illegally transferred from the school over three years ago and is awaiting his trial while Brenda Muchnick, disciplined for giving students the answers, has been working at Norland for the past three years since her suspension.

Colestock states,

These actions are clearly anti-union and anti-labor. The union member who participated in the cheating was fired, but the non-union member who did the exact same thing was suspended without pay for 30 days and sent back to work, whereas I a union steward have been illegally displaced per state law and the Koren decision issued by the Florida Supreme Court which basically prohibits transfers in situations like this. To top it off, the United Teachers of Dade has been stunningly silent. If UTD could not and would not stand up and speak out for me, a decorated and accomplished steward who was correct on the merits with a supporting report by the Miami-Dade OIG and a M-DCPS DOAH brief, who will they stand up and speak out for and protect?

As teacher unions like UTD seem unwilling to reform themselves in terms of clean ethical governance, House Bill 11 makes perfect sense and just may force them to clean up their act, especially in the areas of compliance with professional development procedures, teacher observation and evaluation improprieties, test cheating, and treatment of whistleblowers for the betterment of the students they purport to serve.

Very troubling is the ongoing legal saga of Eugenio “Geno” Perez and his election lawsuit, which is slated for trial in August 2017 in Miami-Dade Civil Court.

In March 2010, Mr. Perez lost the UTD presidential election to former UTD President Karen Aronowitz amid questionable electoral practices and irregularities. To seek the truth and to end electoral practices that many union members deemed as fraudulent, Perez filed suit to obtain the online voting records. If UTD and Karen Aronowitz committed no wrongs, why has UTD spent well over $350,000 of the hard working dues-paying members’ money in keeping Geno Perez from the electoral records?

If UTD is willing to spend the members’ dues money to oppose a lawsuit that seeks to fix a broken electoral process and bring justice to the folks who may have committed electoral fraud, then why should it be able to exist with less than 50% membership and keep the majority of the bargaining unit under its thumb?

Like Mr. Perez, Ceresta Smith ran for UTD President in 2013 and 2016 and lost under very questionable results. Despite her activism over the years, Ms. Smith and her supporters have been marginalized by UTD.

Meanwhile, former UTD Executive Board member Christine Kirchner simulated orgasms, discussed masturbation, and gave massages to students five years ago and kept her teaching job and UTD office.

On top of all this, UTD Vice President Antonio “Snow” White, as well as another UTD member, have been disciplined by the state for cocaine possession begging the question, “Does UTD have a coke problem?

At one point around 15 years ago, UTD had over 85% density. Over time, because of the Pat Tornillo (former UTD President) scandal and the issues raised in this article, it has plummeted to barely over 40%.

As the majority of Miami-Dade teachers voted with their feet and pocketbooks, as have teachers all over Florida, to flee these so-called unions to the point that they represent less than 50% of their bargaining unit, why should they dictate the working conditions and the contractual rights of the majority of the bargaining unit?

House Bill 11 will force UTD, and unions like them, to either shape up or literally ship out.  If a union is decertified under this bill, they brought it upon themselves; the affected bargaining unit members will have a golden opportunity to organize a labor union that best represents and suits their interests and the people that they serve – patients, students, and other clientele.

6 replies
  1. Charles Belekis
    Charles Belekis says:

    Unfortunately, this blog is filled with misinformation both from the author and the quoted commentators. A union is a simple concept. It allows for the presence of democratic principles within a fundamentally authoritarian paradigm, for workers to have input into the decisions that affect them and their families and, in this case, that affect children in schools. The union addresses what is axiomatic: the employer will always seek the most work for the smallest remuneration. Unchecked the employer will always create sweat shop working conditions and provide poverty pay, the conditions of many workers in M-DCPS. The debate here is not over the effectiveness of UTD as currently run. It is over whether there should a union at all. If they were to truthful, all the scabs and free riders quoted above would say that do not want to be without the union contract (one of the pieces of misinformation from above) not to be at will workers with no rights at work.

    Reply
    • Dr. Rich Swier
      Dr. Rich Swier says:

      Charles,

      Thanks for reading and commenting on this column.

      Public schools do not need unions. Private and parochial schools do just fine without unions.

      If teaching is in fact a “profession” with “professionals” then a union representation is not needed.

      The teachers work for the parents and students, not the unions.

      Reply
    • Chris Quackenbush
      Chris Quackenbush says:

      Mr. Belekis starts with an erroneous assumption that employers always seek to pay the least for labor. He does not realize that the other axioms, “the law of supply and demand,” and “you get what you pay for” are also at work. Teachers are in short supply, and great teachers are worth their weight in gold! They do not need to join the “protection rackets” now masquerading as unions. The union in Lee County has produced just the same complaints of corruption, election anomalies and failure to serve members while spending massively on promoting their union bosses and left wing political ideologies.

      Reply
  2. UTD is a Joke
    UTD is a Joke says:

    Nice that a UTD organizer comments about poverty pay when UTD illegally negotiated away our steps with District and put, and keeps, many teachers in poverty and ruined many retirements.

    Reply
  3. Charlotte Greenbarg
    Charlotte Greenbarg says:

    That union has been so incredibly destructive to the morale of the rank and file. I saw it from the inside in the 80s onward and nothing’s changed. What a shame for the hard working teachers who are so oppressed. We do need HB 11.

    Reply
  4. Sabatino Nuzzi III
    Sabatino Nuzzi III says:

    Our are teachers are terribly underpaid‼️Our government on every level federal state and city waste millions and even billions of our tax dollars on some of the most ridiculous, no absurd is a better word, things and special interests that I’ve ever heard of. It is shameful the amount of money that is wasted on so many unnecessary organizations and such ‼️ We are the taxpayers and we demand that that money that is being wasted be given to our educators ‼️ Our teachers are some of the most important people in our country, after all they are the ones that steer our children and educate them in the best direction they know how. To me they are among our American heroes and should be treated as such. We need to start paying them what they deserve. I’m sure everyone agrees that our children and grandchildren are priceless to us and they spend a majority of their time sitting in front of teachers‼️ Let’s pay them what they deserve ‼️

    Reply

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