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Union rally in Florida shows disconnect with teachers

On April 1, the Florida Education Association (FEA), the Sunshine State’s NEA chapter, held a rally in Miami, Florida where union leadership communicated partisan and political rhetoric. Both Randi Weingarten of American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and Becky Pringle of the National Education Association (NEA) were in attendance.

The rallying cry for rally organizers and attendees, “You’re Not Fooling Us Ron!” was a direct barb at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The event flyer listed several of the union’s concerns for teachers, such as “struggling to keep politics out of classrooms,” “struggling to keep our kids and ourselves safe at school” because state lawmakers are “more concerned about banning books,” and “struggling to educate our kids with massive class sizes, burdensome state testing, and big government overreach” due to state lawmakers’ focus “on taking our unionized voice away.”

The flyer also included social media hashtag #NotFoolingUs.

AFT President Randi Weingarten blasted DeSantis, “My friends, we are at a crossroads. People should not be the pawns of ambitious politicians. Public schools should not be defunded by ideologues.” She continued, “DeSantis is selling fear and division. We are about hope and opportunity. A great nation does not fear people being educated!”

President of the National Education Association (NEA), Becky Pringle, echoed similar rhetoric and said, “Instead of working to ensure more Floridians have affordable healthcare, Ron DeSantis is focused on ripping books that promote diversity out of the hands of our students.”

On social media, Weingarten wrote, “A free society isn’t afraid of books. A strong nation isn’t afraid of education. A just society chooses democracy and inclusion. Why is Ron DeSantis afraid of those? #NotFoolingUs.”

AFT tweeted several updates about the rally, including a tweet that said, “We’re here in Miami rallying against Ron DeSantis’ extreme agenda! #NotFoolingUs” NEA tweeted after the rally, “Ron DeSantis is willing to sacrifice the well-being of students to further his own interests. He is #NotFoolingUs.”

FEA shared several tweets about the rally, including a photo of union supporters, quotes from event speakers which railed against the incumbent governor, and a call for readers to join the union’s movement.

FEA also posted photos on their Facebook page of rally participants holding signs that repeated the rallying cry and self-written signs such as, “Authors Says Don’t Ban Books – Stop.” One participant held a button saying, “I’m sticking with my union!”

But the narrative that unions represent the viewpoints of all teachers is undermined by data. A recent Florida Senate bill analysis discovered that 45 of the state’s 70 teachers unions represent fewer than 60% of teachers in their respective bargaining units.

Although teachers unions have created a narrative that Florida teachers are vocal opponents of DeSantis, one can assume that not all teachers vote in line with the national unions’ endorsed or preferred political candidates. Although specific data on teachers’ voting patterns is not readily available, we can look at voting results in Florida counties and compare it to local teachers union membership.

In Santa Rosa County, where the local teachers union represents about 36% of teachers, voters overwhelmingly voted for DeSantis by a 59% margin, or almost 45,000 votes. The Santa Rosa County employs almost 1,700 teachers.

Similarly, in Seminole County, voters cast their ballots for DeSantis by a 12% margin. The county employs over 3,500 teachers and the local teachers union represents under 51% of teachers in the county.

Overall, the data highlights the fact that Florida teachers are actively choosing not to join the teachers unions and the data debunks claims from teachers unions, such as the AFT, NEA, and FEA, that they represent all Florida teachers.

Spencer Irvine

Spencer Irvine is Senior Writer & Researcher at Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Spencer previously worked in state government, in communications for a non-profit advocacy organization, and held various administrative and communications roles at a media analysis organization. He has a master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Brigham Young University. He lives in Arizona with his wife, is an avid history buff and enjoys touring historic sites.