Florida launched an assault on workers’ rights. Miami-Dade teachers are fighting back | Opinion

Last year Gov. Ron DeSantis, eager to punish the unions that did not support his re-election, teamed up with a right-wing group from Olympia, Washington, called the Freedom Foundation to craft a plan and target public sector workers.

Rusty Brown of the Freedom Foundation proudly admitted he wrote SB 256 which eliminates employees’ right to control their own payroll deductions and arbitrarily mandated that voluntary union membership must be at 60%. SB 256 sailed through the legislature and was promptly signed by the governor.

The governor’s commissioner of education was then the keynote speaker at the Freedom Foundation recruitment and planning effort in Colorado. During the trip to the five-star resort, they jointly launched what would become a million-dollar campaign to eliminate United Teachers of Dade (UTD). It was there that the staunchly anti-union Freedom Foundation decided to create a front group, pretending to be an independent alternative to UTD.

Yet despite relentless union-busting efforts from Tallahassee and millions of dollars from out-of-state groups, the employees of Miami-Dade County Public Schools rallied to support their union, the United Teachers of Dade. In a testament to our collective strength and unity, over 11,000 education professionals who work in the nation’s third-largest school district signed interest cards to show the state of Florida that they value UTD.

The 11,000+ individuals who signed interest cards overwhelmingly exceeded the requirement! That is a crystal-clear statement from our local educators about who they want to represent them.

While extremist right-wing politicians have counted us out, we are poised to re-emerge from the latest attacks even stronger. Our membership is growing at a record rate — nearly 1,000 new members have joined UTD in the past six months.

We will continue to push back against Tallahassee politicians who make the profession and lives of educators more difficult. Educators can expect continued attacks from the dark-money Freedom Foundation and its front group, the Miami-Dade Education Coalition (MDEC).

We know that Tallahassee legislators will continue their campaign to defund public education and weaken workers’ rights. But even as state agencies and legislators threaten our rights, they fuel a powerful backlash from educators, support staff and parents.

Our members recognize that without UTD, their salary, healthcare and benefits would be at risk and their contract eliminated. Our community and parents realize that without quality public schools, our children will be at a disadvantage and face tremendous academic losses.

Out-of-state extremists and the front group here in town are all in concert with the governor and his secretary of education. These folks think so little of teachers, they thought they’d be fooled by the whole million-dollar scheme.

But Miami-Dade educators aren’t falling for it. We know that unions are the reason workers have basic rights in the workplace. We teach that history. As Florida legislators push bills to roll back decades of progress on basic human rights issues like child labor and free speech, we know that unions are strong enough to push back and preserve our freedoms. With so many important Florida institutions weakened or captured by the influence of wealthy, right-wing extremists, unions like UTD are effectively the only check left on state power.

The United Teachers of Dade have an unwavering dedication to the teachers, paraprofessionals, administrative professionals and security monitors in our schools — and we bring that same steadfast spirit into Miami-Dade classrooms every single day.

While we fight to defend ourselves and take care of your children, we urge all South Floridians to join us in the fight for democracy, fair wages, respect and an improved contract. Together, we can build a brighter future for everyone.

Karla Hernández-Mats is president of United Teachers of Dade.