Guest: Rich Templin of Florida AFL-CIO; Also: NY A.G. may seize Trump building to cover fines; Biden forgives another $1.2B in student loans...
By Brad Friedman on 2/21/2024, 6:54pm PT  

Don't forget to laugh out loud next time you hear a Republican pretending to oppose "Big Government regulations" or acting as if they give a damn about "forgotten working folks". Those are two of the biggest lies in the GOP toolbox, as discussed on today's BradCast, and actively demonstrated down in Emperor Ron DeSantis' Republic of Florida even as I write. [Audio link to full show follows this summary.]

BUT FIRST... A few cheerier pieces of news to kick things off. The size of the fines against Donald Trump, his company and two of his sons in the New York fraud verdict against them is more staggering than you may realize following Judge Arthur Engoron's ruling [PDF] last Friday. Most outlets have cited the $355 million that Trump must cough up. But that doesn't include another $100 million or so already tacked on in interest to cover the fraudulent inflation of assets going back as far as 2019 or so. In truth, he now owes NY about $455 million, with some $87,000 in new interest accruing each day that he fails to pay up. But don't worry. He'll pay. NY A.G. Tish James said yesterday that she is prepared to seize his assets, including buildings, if he fails to do so.

While the corrupt former President's life is on the precipice of ruin, the not-corrupt current President, Joe Biden, was busy today forgiving another $1.2 billion in student loans for some 153,00 borrowers. That brings the total to nearly 4 million Americans who have seen some or all of their student debt wiped out by the Biden Administration, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Biden's original plan to forgive debt for 40 million borrowers. (That, even though the corrupt rightwing SCOTUS allowed Trump to change loan terms for borrowers under the very same law Biden tried to use.)

THEN... On yesterday's program with my guest John Nichols of The Nation, we discussed the possibility of rolling back the notorious anti-union law, known as ACT 10, in Wisconsin. The measure, which gutted most public sector unions (if not right-leaning police and firefighter unions) was muscled through to law more than a decade ago by the state's far-right then Gov. Scott Walker and his gerrymandered GOP toughs in the state legislature. Now that a newly liberal state Supreme Court has allowed Democratic Governor Tony Evers to implement fairer, non-gerrymandered legislative maps for the 2024 election, its conceivable Dems could finally return to power and restore collective bargaining rights to state workers next year.

Nichols cited neighboring Michigan as a role model for repealing Republican anti-union measures in a previously gerrymandered state, after its Democratic Governor and now Democratically-controlled state legislature rolled back that state's union-busting laws last week.

So, good news in the North this week...but really bad news down in Ron DeSantis' Florida, where a hastily-enacted 2023 law by the GOP legislature, passed in hopes of buttressing the Governor's ill-fated run for President, may now, literally, wipe out the very existence of hundreds of local public sector unions, with tens of thousands of workers, across the entire state.

Thousands of teachers, civil engineers, state and local clerical workers, mechanics, city park workers, those that answer 911 calls (but not police, firefighters or correctional officers, whose unions support DeSantis and are thus exempted from the law) are now seeing their unions decertified and dissolved by the state under Senate Bill 256, or are now on the brink of seeing that happening.

We're joined today by RICH TEMPLIN --- Legislative and Political Director of Florida AFL-CIO, the state's largest labor organization, representing more than 500 local unions --- to explain what is going on here, and what, if anything can be done about it.

None of this should be happening, he explains, because decades-old provisions in Florida's state Constitution protect the right to collective bargaining for public sector workers. But, "Constitutional Conservatism" is apparently for lefties and liberals now down in the Sunshine State, where Templin describes this attack on unions as "a sordid, complicated tale," that began "when Ron DeSantis decided to run for President."

"He was rewarding his biggest donors. Not only past donors but future donors he could count on for the campaign," Templin says, detailing how the wannabe President was "catering favor with national organizations that can provide national endorsements and national money. That's how we got sucked up into it. The extensive Koch Brothers network...He did this for them."

"When the bill was passed," Templin asserts, "there was no constituency group asking for it. There was no public sector employers asking for it. There were no public sector employees asking for it. It was 100% driven by billionaire out-of-state think tanks who the Governor was currying favor with for his Presidential run, and a legislature that was all too willing to turn their constituents over to his political ambitions."

At its heart, SB256 takes away the option for union members to voluntarily have their dues taken out of their paychecks each month. (Most unions anyway. Remember, police and firefighters unions are exempt from SB256.) Then the measure simply decertifies unions that do not have more than 60% dues-paying membership, even though Florida is a so-called "Right to Work" state where all workers must be allowed to "freeload" off of union contracts without being paying members of the union. They "took away the ability for members to conveniently pay their dues, and then they say, 'If there's not enough of you paying dues, you lose your union altogether.'"

While DeSantis didn't win the Koch Network endorsement or money --- or GOP Presidential nomination --- "he has really destroyed the state of Florida," in his failed attempt, according to Templin. "We are in shambles. It is going to take us a decade to dig out from what he's done."

SB256 is already a disaster, and not just because it was hurriedly pushed through the state legislature without regard to existing protections in the state constitution. But because nobody really knows how to implement it. How can unions be recertified after they've become decertified? What happens to existing union contracts?

Templin spoke to us today from the capital building in Tallahassee as a measure to try and fix some of SB256's most egregious disasters may come to the floor, and he is hoping to see amendments added to correct some of the law's most unworkable elements.

"This has been a time of great chaos," Templin laments. "There's a whole bunch of other bureaucratic hurdles that have been established to make it impossible for public sector unions to exist. They did this 'death by a thousand paper cuts' because the constitution doesn't allow them" to simply end collective bargaining for public sector workers as then Gov. Walker did in Wisconsin over a decade ago.

Templin has much more to say about all of this today, on the legal challenges to the measure, and how voters can help to turn things around in the state after years of rightwing autocracy, especially under DeSantis.

For some of the horrifying details on the ongoing effects of SB256 across the state, as it has fully taken effect as of the first of the year, be sure to check out investigative journalist Daniel Rivero's excellent and exhaustive recent article at South Florida's public radio outlet, WLRN.


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