Florida Guns at Work Legislation May Mean Trouble for HR

By Staff Report

Apr. 18, 2007

Union support for a Florida bill that would allow employees to keep guns locked in their cars on company grounds may mean troubling times for employers.

At a Florida Senate committee hearing March 27, the Florida AFL-CIO came out in support of the bill, which is sponsored by the National Rifle Association.

The issue of firearms in workplace is likely to become a hot issue nationwide in light of the recent shootings at Virginia Tech. Among the 33 dead were at least seven university employees.

For the union, “guns are not the issue,” AFL-CIO spokesman Rich Templin says.

“This is about protecting workers’ rights. When you drive to work, your car still belongs to you. Your privacy doesn’t end when you get to work.”

SB 2356, which was introduced earlier this year, would let employees keep “any legal personal property” locked in their cars, even on company property. Employers or other entities could not prohibit them from having such items in their vehicles.

Similar bills are pending in Texas and Georgia as the NRA tries to pass legislation throughout the country, observers say.

And if the unions choose to support these measures in other parts of the country, employers will have to address the issue, says Mark Neuberger, a labor lawyer at Buchanan Ingersoll in Miami.

“Employers are already fighting this to protect the security of their workplaces,” he says. “But now this could become a bargaining issue with the union.”

So far there hasn’t been any indication that the AFL-CIO will support bills in other states, but it’s not out of the question, says Al McKenna, a partner in the Orlando office of employment law firm Ford & Harrison.

“It’s a way to cozy up to potential new members,” he says. However, he notes that the unions are busy right now with more pressing matters. “It could create pressure if the AFL-CIO decides to invest resources into the support of this law,” McKenna says, “but this isn’t like the Employee Free Choice Act,” the bill that would authorize a union when a majority of employees sign cards approving collective bargaining. The bill is a top priority of organized labor.

In Florida at least, the AFL-CIO’s support of the bill has caused employers some concern. The Florida Chamber of Commerce and others have strongly opposed the bill, arguing that it violates their property rights.

“Our principal concern is that this bill is somewhere between an attack on the employer/employee contract and on property rights overall,” says Mark Wilson, executive director of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Many were shocked to learn of the AFL-CIO’s support for the bill.

“As the first people in line to be shot in a workplace incident, it seems pretty ludicrous that a union organization would support arming workers,” says Brian Sie­bel, a senior attorney at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

But Templin emphasizes that for the AFL-CIO, this is an issue of protecting workers’ rights.

“As soon as someone takes the gun out of their vehicle or makes a threat, the law addresses that,” he says. “This is about protecting workers’ rights to keep things in their cars.”

Templin notes that there have been incidents where members have been fired for having union materials in their cars, and this law would prevent such incidents.

To support the bill, the AFL-CIO in Florida is sending out e-mails to its 500,000 members encouraging them to call their senators in support of the bill, Templin says.

Wilson says he’s surprised that HR managers haven’t gotten more involved in the discussions about the bill. While the Society for Human Resource Management testified in front of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee against the bill and has sent information to their members, Wilson says that “we were hoping there would be more calls from HR managers.”

On April 10, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-3 to approve the bill, which is now pending vote on the chamber floor. The House is also considering a similar bill.

Jessica Marquez

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