Aiming to offset a new, more stringent state law governing teacher union rights, the United School Employees of Pasco launched a recruiting drive.
Its goal: To get more than half of all eligible teachers to join before it has to renew its annual registration with the state.
That's the measuring stick lawmakers adopted in the spring, arguing the unions should represent a real majority if they are to bargain employment conditions for everyone.
After 2-1/2 months, the USEP announced it had reached the 49 percent mark, and was continuing its cash incentives to those who bring in new members into August. The group's registration renewal comes Sept. 1, making it one of the first Florida teacher unions to face the modified certification rule.
"We are extending our organizing campaign through Aug. 10," USEP president Don Peace said Tuesday. "We will also be collecting some new members from the [district's] new teacher orientation."
The effort includes a focus on low-density schools where participation might be lower, and summertime phone calls to non-members, some of whom have said in the past they don't belong primarily because they cannot afford the dues.
"Our goal is really to be at 55 percent," Peace said. "That way, when the retirees drop off we will still be over 50 percent and won't have to scramble next year."
Lawmakers directed the new requirements, which come into play annually, at teachers unions only. Some of the locals, such as the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said they already met the mark and did not worry.
Others, however, raised concerns that they could not attain the 50 percent level, and suggested the new law could have the effect of killing the unions, which have been the most consistent opposition to many of the Legislature's more controversial education proposals involving vouchers, charter schools and open enrollment.
The Florida Education Association has indicated it will sue the state over the law.