HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – The Florida State Legislative Board invited two Florida state politicians to address attendees at the August regional meeting. While there, both pledged to continue their advocacy for labor while thanking members for their support.
State Rep. Joe Geller (D – Dist. 100) said that an inhospitable political climate at the moment in the Florida Legislature won’t deter him from fighting against anti-labor policies in Tallahassee.
“I’m one of the people in Tallahassee who doesn’t make any bones about where I stand,” he said at the Aug. 6 lunch break. “I’m pro-union. I’m pro-labor. I stand with working men and women because working men and women are who built this country.”
Florida state Rep. Joe Geller (D – Dist. 100) delivers his speech Aug. 6 during the Hollywood, Fla., regional meeting as TD Vice President John England applauds at right.
Geller said better wages, a support system for the impoverished, improved workplace safety and aid to public schools came as a result of the labor movement’s efforts.
“Labor is what made this country what it is today, and we all need to stand together with the labor movement, and I always will,” he said.
Geller, a former mayor and former Miami-Dade County Democratic Party chairman, said it’s easy to identify those who oppose labor – they constantly look to cut those things that unions have clawed and fought to achieve.
“There is no mistake that there is an assault on the rights of working men and women around our country and right here in this state. We’ve got to stand up and all stand together — link our arms together as men and women and stand for the rights for working people, especially to organize and be treated fairly,” he said.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision in June is one example of this assault, and things will need to be done legislatively to fix the damage done by the decision as well as to further protect workers.
“If we don’t stand with each other, we’re not going to be able to withstand this right-wing assault on working men and women that happens in so many ways,” Geller said. “Don’t feel like you’re alone. There’s plenty of us out there who see what they’re trying to do and won’t stand for it.
“We will not quietly go along with these plans to undermine working men and women and their chosen labor organizations. We’re here to fight, and we need everybody to stand together and fight this fall in the most important mid-term election that this country has ever seen.”
State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez (D – Dist. 37) began his speech at the Aug. 7 opening session with a message of thanks to members.
“Thank you for staying active in your union, staying informed, for volunteering, for voting,” Rodriguez said.
At the state level in Florida, he said legislation to improve safety conditions for rail workers and bus operators is a priority, but it’s been difficult to make progress.
“I wish there was more that we could do in our current political climate to move the needle,” Rodriguez said. “In the Legislature, it’s mainly just been about holding the line against some of the attacks that Mr. Brodar had been talking about.”
TD President John Previsich shakes Florida state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez’s hand after Rodriguez addressed the regional meeting on Aug. 7.
SMART Transportation Division General Counsel Kevin Brodar spoke immediately before Rodriguez about the Janus decision.
Rodriguez’s mother was a union nurse, and he saw the benefits that came from union membership growing up and then later as a labor attorney when cases involving worker safety and workers’ rights came up.
But there are deep-pocketed interests that aren’t even allowing labor-related issues to be placed on the Legislature’s agenda, Rodriguez said.
“We really need to change the political culture, the political climate,” he said.
Geller and Rodriguez both took time to acknowledge the work of Florida State Legislative Director Andres Trujillo, who, along with Legislative Vice Chairperson Eduardo Guillen and Local 1138 Secretary & Treasurer Terry Hobbs, served as the local committee for the meeting at the Hilton Diplomat Resort.
In Florida last week, the people prevailed as a federal district court ruled Florida voters have every right to restrict the state legislature’s ability to redraw the election map willy-nilly to favor incumbent members of Congress and the state legislature.
UTU Florida State Legislative Director Andres Trujillo and his state legislative board were in the thick of the battle, fighting for “fair election districts” that ensure voters decide their politicians rather than politicians deciding their voters.
Two incumbent Florida politicians unsuccessfully argued before the federal court that the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures “complete discretion” in drawing the boundaries of election districts. The federal court ruled otherwise, saying Florida voters can bind their own state legislature through amendments to the state constitution, as they did at the ballot box in 2010.
Redrawing election districts to accommodate changes in population occurs in every state every 10 years following completion of the U.S. Census.
Frequently, the majority party in the legislature attempts to establish a political advantage for their party by manipulating the geographic boundaries of congressional and state legislature voting districts. The term is known as “gerrymandering” after 19th century Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who led an effort that so contorted congressional election districts in that state that one was said to resemble the shape of a salamander.
Gerrymandering “encourages the politics of division and extremism, and allows for the underrepresentation of Florida citizens’ interests, in legal, civil, legislative and government matters,” Trujillo said. The NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union agree, saying the state constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering in Florida strengthens protections for minorities.
Trujillo, with assistance from his state legislative board, arranged for the ballot initiative’s spokespersons to appear before public forums and newspaper editorial boards, solicited contributions to help fund state-wide advertising explaining the ballot initiative to voters, and helped organize petition drives to place the initiative before voters last year. On Election Day, the UTU Florida State Legislative Board helped to get out the vote.
The federal court upheld the successful ballot-box initiative, meaning the Florida legislature is now prohibited from drawing voting-district lines to favor or disfavor any incumbent or political party. The legislature must, instead, use existing political and geographical boundaries such as city or county limits, and geographical features like canals, bays and oceans. The federal court said voters approved a valid regulation of the legislative process.
Trujillo noted that the ballot initiative began in response to 430 separate elections for the legislature where only three incumbents were defeated. This was seen as evidence of the effect of past Florida gerrymandering to protect reelection of incumbents.
Employees of four railroads in Alabama and Florida have chosen the UTU as their bargaining representative.
On South Florida Tri-Rail, a commuter railroad where the UTU already represents both sides of the cab, employees of the operations center have chosen the UTU as their bargaining representative.
In Alabama, train and engine workers on Conecuh Valley Railroad, Three Notch Railroad, and Wiregrass Central Railroad voted “UTU, yes.” All are owned by shortline holding company Gulf and Ohio Railways.
UTU organizer Mike Lewis worked with employees of both railroads to explain the UTU’s history, structure and representation strength. Lewis praised the efforts of Local 762 (Montgomery, Ala.) Chairperson Toby Mullins and UTU Florida State Legislative Director Andres Trujillo for their assistance.
South Florida Tri-Rail operates over 71 miles for former CSX track linking West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. Owned by the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, Tri-Rail is operated by Veolia Transportation.
Conecuh Valley Railroad operates over former Central of Georgia (now Norfolk Southern) track between Troy, Ala., and Gadsden, Ala.
Three Notch opeates from Andalusia, Ala., to Georgiana, Ala. over former CSX track.
Wiregrass Central operates between Enterprise, Ala., and Newton, Ala., over former CSX track.