Florida unions sue DeSantis for serious violations of the U.S. Constitution
DeSantis smiles here after he speaks at the last meeting of the Florida legislature which approved the host of unconstitutional measures he has pushed and plans to foist upon the entire country if he is ever elected. He faces a major lawsuit over this right now. | Phil Sears/AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.–The Florida Education Association, the joint AFT-NEA affiliate in the Sunshine State, along with the top union for the state’s public college faculty, are suing right-wing anti-education Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and his minions for violating the U.S. Constitution.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Gainesville, specifically says Florida’s SB256, which the governor pushed through the compliant Republican supermajority in the state legislature, breaks Florida teachers’ right to freedom of association, among other constitutional guarantees.

And it’s “an extension of Governor DeSantis’s broader campaign against public educators and public education itself,” the court papers add.

“Gov. DeSantis has made it clear he is targeting educators because we exercise our constitutional right to speak out against attempts by this governor and others to stymie the freedom to learn and to stifle freedom of thought” in Florida classrooms, union President Andrew Spar said in a statement after the May 10 filing.

“The governor is using this legislation to retaliate against his critics, very similar to what we’ve seen in the attacks on Disney as well,” Spar added.

DeSantis retaliated against the Disney Corp., whose workers are also unionized, and which is Florida’s biggest private employer, by abolishing its special taxing district around its Orlando theme parks. The thin-skinned governor was irate over Disney’s criticism of DeSantis’s “Don’t say gay” law.

That law, in turn, was one of dozens of pieces of anti-educator legislation DeSantis pushed.

SB256 covers “disfavored” public unions in Florida—all except the Fire Fighters and unions representing police and corrections officers—and hits them hard. Think Scott Walker a decade ago in Wisconsin, only worse.

“Disfavored” Floridian unions, with FEA as DeSantis’s main target, find their First Amendment right to freedom of speech—in teaching—and freedom of association curbed or banned. The suit says SB256 also violates the Constitution’s 14 th Amendment’s command for “equal protection of the laws,” and the Constitution’s ban on “impairment of contracts” by setting conditions the unions must meet—a 60% majority vote—for recertification every year.

FEA’s suit drew immediate support from AFT President Randi Weingarten, in a tweet.

“This is why the union is going to court: To make sure educators have the right to speak, that students have the right to learn. Freedom means freedom. Voice. Agency. That’s the freedom that AFT, @FloridaEA, and @UnitedFacultyFL,” the union for faculty at state colleges and universities, “are fighting for,” she stated.

SB256 was the latest and apparently most far-reaching anti-teacher and anti-public-school law DeSantis has pushed through during his time in Tallahassee. Other laws DeSantis will tout on the campaign trail include abolishing tenure at the state universities and colleges, extending the “Don’t say gay” law to cover grades K-12 and banning teachers from teaching the nation’s full record on civil rights, including its failings.

All are favorite causes of the fascist radical right, whom DeSantis caters to, including in his May 24 unveiling of his presidential campaign. His host: Rightist billionaire Elon Musk, a labor law-breaker himself, who’s taken over Twitter and reshaped it in his image.

DeSantis’s social issue agenda also includes reversing restrictions on guns and enacting a draconian anti-abortion law. The governor figures he can take the same stands as former Oval Office occupant Donald Trump, the current Republican frontrunner, does, unaccompanied by Trump’s political baggage and current and potential prosecutions.

Meanwhile, members of DeSantis’s state Public Employees Relations Commission are the technical defendants in the civil suit, or DeSantis’s willing allies depending on how you look at it.

Other sections of SB256 which the unions say are unconstitutional include Inserting a 91-word “right to work affirmation” in large 14-point type in each member’s application and forcing each union’s five highest-paid officers and employees to disclose their pay—a provision reminiscent of the 1959 Republican-passed federal Landrum-Griffin Act.

SB256 also features “paycheck protection,” banning authorized dues checkoffs. And it “impermissibly imposes viewpoint-based restrictions on collection of voluntary membership dues, in violation of their 1st Amendment rights to freedom of speech and their 14th Amendment rights to equal protection of the laws,” the suit says.

The teachers unions, of course, “have vigorously opposed” all of them. But given the gerrymandered legislature dominated by rightist Republicans, their efforts against “a battering range” of legislation have been largely unrewarded.

“In advancing his anti-education campaign, DeSantis has complained of the ‘excessive influence’ of school unions—while expressing no such concerns for the influence of public unions he favors and who have politically supported him,” the suit adds. Walker, the erstwhile anti-union right-wing Republican Wisconsin governor, created the same distinction in his infamous Act 10 public union destruction law.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.