In commemoration of Labor Day Weekend, let’s take a moment prior to embarking on our long weekends to think about what the holiday means for Floridians, and to feel gratitude for having said “long weekend” at all.
Labor unions were an absolute necessity in our nation’s evolution from barbaric employment practices to a far safer society for workers. But in our modern context, this role has become debatable. (Insert your moment of private reflection here).
Your thoughts on “right to work” and its policy cousins aside, let’s take a look at what organized labor means politically in Florida through the lens of our state’s professional lobbyist corps.
The first difficulty in doing so is to determine exactly which “associations” represented by lobbyists before Florida’s legislative and executive branches are indeed unions.
But for others, such Florida’s mega teacher’s union, it is a lot harder to tell without an insider’s eye. Case in point, the Florida Education Association (FEA) is the largest union in Florida, with 137,000 or so members, and with a lobbyist list 15 members long. Among these teacher’s union lobbyists are Albert Balido, Tina Dunbar, Patsy Dix, Ronald Meyer, Amy Rodman, Andrew Ford, Jeff Wright, and Jacqueline Sisto.
Miami-Dade County teachers also have six lobbyists, including Karyn Cunningham, Fedrick Ingram, and Joseph Minor, representing their interests through the United Teachers of Dade. And, the faculty of Miami Dade College can get its lobbying done through Ana Alejandre Ciereszko.
Then, there’s the Florida Police Benevolent Association with its team of 13 lobbyists, and no shortage of political clout, either. I don’t know for sure, but I think this lineup of lobbyists may be the largest number of in-house lobbyists for a single organization in Florida. None of the 13 lobby for another organization. They include Matthew Puckett, Mike McHale, Gene Johnson, Ernest George, Gary Bradford, and John Rivera.
Other membership unions in Florida approach the political process with fewer hands on deck. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has David Lavery as its solo lobbyist; the International Longshoreman Association Local #1416/1922/1526/1408 lobbies through David Caserta; the International Union of Police Associations works exclusively with Jeffrey Edmiston on its political efforts; and the International Union of Office and Professional Employees has lobbyist Bob Levy on their case.
Then there’s the SEIU — the Service Employees International Union — whose purple and yellow presence is regularly felt through the halls at 400 S. Monroe Street — but who have just two registered lobbyists: Alexander Samuel Ring and Ronald Bilbao.
Finally, the United Transportation Union has lobbyist Andrew Trujillo registered for its cause; and the Teamsters Joint Council 75 & Affiliates work with Missie Timmins and Ron Silver to work its political agenda with Florida lawmakers.
So, then, just how many folks do these lobbyists work on behalf of? (Yes, I know, union advocates’ answer would be “everyone’s.”)
In 2011, Florida’s union membership share of total employment (6.3 percent) was just more than half that of the nation (11.8 percent), and these ratios are comparable still today. Union membership’s share of total Florida employment was 6.3 percent in 2011, up from 5.6 percent in 2010.
Overall, union membership in Florida increased to 460,000 in 2011, up from 392,000 members in 2010, an increase of nearly 18 percent. Perhaps this jump is due in part to the 20,000 correctional, probation and parole officers with the Florida Department of Corrections who voted in 2011 to join the Teamsters Union.
However, union membership shares dropped a bit by 2013 — to 5.4 percent of employed Floridians being members of unions and 6.9 percent being represented by unions regardless of membership.
In 2011, among the 10 most populous states, Florida (6.3 percent) ranked fourth lowest behind North Carolina (2.9 percent). New York had the highest union membership rate, accounting for nearly one in four workers there.