Florida is one of just a handful of states in which the monopoly-bargaining privileges of government union officials, including teacher union bosses, are constitutionally enshrined. In practice, what this means is that in order to eliminate or even roll back substantially the scope of Big Labor’s effective veto power over proposed reforms in the way civil servants are compensated and managed, citizens will need to amend the Florida Constitution.
As a consequence of union monopoly bargaining, teachers, along with other public employees, are almost completely dependent on union officials for their job security and pay increases. Recognizing that they have to rely on union bosses to defend their interests, regardless of how well they think Big Labor does the job, the overwhelming majority of unionized public employees in Florida opt to join and pay dues, even though thanks to the Sunshine State’s Right to Work law they cannot be fired for refusing. According to a database maintained by labor economists Barry Hirsch and David Macpherson, in 2014 87% of Florida public employees who were subject to union monopoly bargaining were also dues-paying union members.
Over the years, government union kingpins in Florida have time and again abused the special constitutional privileges they enjoy. In 2003, for example, an FBI raid of the United Teachers of Dade (UTD/AFT/NEA) uncovered financial records showing that then-President Pat Tornillo had purchased $4300 sofas, $3600 loveseats, $400 soap dishes, $300 toilet roll holders, and much more with teachers’ dues money.
And in 2012, the former president of the Broward Teachers Union (BTU), Pat Santeramo, was arrested and charged with 20 criminal counts, including “racketeering, grand theft, fraud, money laundering, and charges involving illegal campaign contributions,” as an August 20 news report by Lachlan Markay of the Washington Free Beacon reminds us. (See the link below for the whole story.)
As Markay explained, the alleged campaign law violations involved “alleged schemes to illegally direct tens of thousands of dollars to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, among other political efforts:
According to Florida authorities, Santeramo approached BTU colleagues beginning in 2007 asking them and their family members to contribute to Clinton’s campaign and that of then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink.
“Fraudulent reimbursements were used to conceal and launder these contributions by disguising them in the BTU books and records using false account classification designations such as: ‘miscellaneous expense, building expense, organizing, staff training, new education program, office supplies, lobbying, communications, negotiation and bargaining, other committees, steward training and special events,’” according to the criminal complaint against Santeramo.
Authorities charge that 26 individuals were involved in the scheme, which also involved contributions to the 2010 campaign of Broward County School Board member Nora Rupert.
Santeramo also allegedly used BTU’s operating account to reimburse members for contributions to the union’s political action committee, effectively concealing political donations as business expenses. “The total amounts of these political contributions were sent” to the national American Federation of Teachers union, according to the indictment.
Even as Santeramo awaits trial in Broward County on an array of state charges, his troubles with the law continue to mount. A new federal indictment issued this month charges that as BTU president Santeramo, with the help of one or more coconspirators, embezzled more than $35,000 in money furnished by the School Board of Broward Country which were supposed to go “toward training programs and leave time for teachers working on ‘accountability projects.'”
Teacher union bosses routinely claim they wield monopoly-bargaining privileges to advance the interests of public educators, but the records in the Santeramo prosecution and multiple other similar corruption cases show how easily these privileges can be used to line union bosses’ own pockets and trample educators’ free speech rights.
If elected officials in Florida want to deter government union corruption in the future, the most effect reform they can undertake is to support a campaign to take mandatory public-sector monopoly bargaining out of the state constitution.