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Parent-Trigger, pension attacks on workers defeated in Florida Senate

By staff |
May 2, 2013
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Tallahassee, FL – As the Florida legislative session comes to a close, workers racked up a couple of major victories at the capitol. After months of protest by labor unions and progressive groups, the Florida Senate defeated two bills that would have attacked pensions for public workers and allowed corporations to privatize public schools.

At the beginning of the legislative session, the Florida District of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) outlined several bills that workers, students and oppressed people in the state should unite against to defeat. Nearly two months later, labor unions, student groups and progressive organizations have a lot to celebrate as Governor Rick Scott and the Republican legislature continue to lose major battles at the Capitol.

By a close vote of 20-20, the Parent-Trigger bill (SB 682) went down in flames on the Florida Senate floor, April 30. Teachers and other union members sitting in the gallery cheered as a visibly frustrated Senate President Don Gaetz announced the tie vote, which effectively defeated the legislation. Parent-Trigger was a major priority for former Republican Governor Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Florida’s Future because it would have allowed corporations to take over public schools and convert them into for-profit charter schools.

Last year, popular pressure from teachers and workers forced the Senate to defeat Parent-Trigger, also by vote of 20-20. Six Republican state senators broke from their party and voted against Parent-Trigger, which defeated it for a second year in a row. The continued dissent in the Republican ranks represents a major body blow to the right-wing’s assault on public schools and it demonstrates the growing resistance to corporate takeovers of education.

Reports from Sunshine State News indicate that Governor Scott feared backlash from teachers and parents and pushed several Republican lawmakers to vote against Parent-Trigger, many of whom were open advocates of the bill last year. This defeat is significant because it shows the growing people’s power outside of the legislature in Florida and it signals disunity in the ranks of the right wing. This is good news for all Florida workers.

Later that day, the Florida Senate also defeated a radical attack on state workers’ and teachers’ pensions (HB 7011) by a vote of 18-22. Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican from Central Florida, announced at the beginning of session that his major priority was closing the Florida Retirement System (FRS) defined benefit plan and putting all new state workers’ retirement into risky 401k plans. HB 7011 would transfer the hard-earned retirement benefits of teachers, firefighters and other public workers to Wall Street banks and corporations.

For months, unions held protests and press conferences outside of legislators’ offices to resist these attacks on their pensions. Thousands of phone calls from public workers across the state tied up office phone lines with messages against HB 7011. Despite the distance to Tallahassee, the Florida AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions brought hundreds of workers to the capitol every week of session to directly pressure legislators to vote against this bill.

Although workers should celebrate these people’s victories, the final two days of session promise even more battles. The Florida House remains vehemently opposed to expanding Medicaid coverage for poor and working Floridians and the few remaining days of the normal session makes a special session in the summer likely. Even worse, the Florida Senate will hear SB 1216 in the coming days, which would repeal the wage theft ordinances passed in several Florida counties to protect workers’ rights. These fights will continue well beyond the end of the legislative session and Florida workers ought to build on these victories in order to achieve more.