Beware Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-worker agenda | Opinion
His presidential run is getting all the attention. But his anti-worker agenda is worthy of scrutiny
Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference at Pinellas County schools, Aug. 11, 2021. (Credit: Gov. DeSantis Facebook/The Florida Phoenix).
By David Madland
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis generates lots of buzz for his likely Presidential run, but so far little attention has been paid to his record of supporting anti-worker policies.
This is a strange oversight given the unpopularity of these positions and the importance of working-class voters to any successful candidate. Indeed, many credit former President Donald Trump’s strong support with the White working class in part due to his attempts to distance himself from some typical Republican positions on economic issues.
DeSantis has a long history of trying to weaken unions and generally opposing pro-worker policies. He has fought minimum wage increases, sought to eliminate wage protections for construction workers, and supported numerous bills to limit the ability of workers – in both the public and private sector — to join a union and bargain collectively.
Currently, his big anti-worker fight is an effort to try to weaken union rights for Florida teachers and other public sector workers.
In January, DeSantis announced a legislative proposal to, as he stated, “fight against school union haggling.” Among the ways that DeSantis’s proposal would harm teacher unions and workers that want to join them: instead of a majority of workers being able to form a union, a super-majority of 60% would be required; union materials would not be allowed to be distributed at the workplace; dues couldn’t be paid through payroll deduction; and union salaries would be capped.
Weakening the collective voice of teachers drives down wages, makes it harder to retain quality teachers and more difficult to address the teacher shortage. The average teacher salary in Florida is just 48th in the nation and the state already has among the most teacher vacancies in the country.
The fate of DeSantis’s proposal will be decided by the Florida legislature, where legislators are moving a similar bill to undermine not just teacher unions but most all public sector unions – except those representing police and firefighters.
It is clear that voters don’t like these kinds of anti-union policies.
Unions are more popular now than they have been in decades – including over 70% support amongst those without a college degree.
Further, citizens in Ohio and Missouri voted to overturn the type of anti-union policy DeSantis is pushing and in 2022, Illinois voters approved a pro-union ballot measure and voted out of office several of the Republican legislators that opposed it.
DeSantis may take some comfort that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was able to survive a recall attempt after he passed similar anti-union legislation – but his anti-union policies were not very popular and were not particularly helpful in Walker’s 2016 presidential run.
Unpopular, anti-worker stances are nothing new for DeSantis.
As governor, DeSantis opposed a 2020 ballot initiative to raise Florida’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. Voters approved the initiative with 61% support.
When he was a member of Congress, DeSantis voted for, or cosponsored, over a dozen pieces of legislation to weaken private sector unions.
He co-sponsored the so-called National Right-to-Work Act, which makes it illegal for workers and employers to negotiate a contract requiring everyone who benefits from a union contract to pay their fair share of the costs of administering it. Right-to-work has nothing to do with people being forced to be union members and nothing to do with ensuring workers have a right to a job, but rather is a way to weaken unions.
DeSantis voted to make it easier for companies to contract out to avoid their responsibilities to pay the minimum wage and bargain collectively. He voted to cut the budget of the National Labor Relations Board – the agency that enforces union rights – by approximately 40%, and voted to overturn a rule the board enacted to make the union election process fairer.
On at least seven occasions DeSantis has taken aim at construction workers by voting against Davis-Bacon prevailing wage standards – which require companies that receive government contracts pay construction workers at least the basic hourly rate of wages and benefits paid to a number of similarly employed workers in a given geography.
Davis-Bacon requirements support good jobs for blue-collar workers, help ensure that government dollars do not undercut local wage and benefit standards, and prevent a race to the bottom among publicly funded contractors.
DeSantis’s current fight to weaken unions and his long standing opposition to worker rights deserves far more attention than it is currently receiving.
DeSantis seems to want to be known as anti-woke for the cultural fights he picks, but it is clear that he should really be known as an anti-worker politician.
David Madland is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the author of Re-Union: How Bold Labor Reforms Can Repair, Revitalize, and Reunite the United States.
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