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COLUMN

Happytown

Unions get smart (and angry), gays get benefits (and ridicule), UCF hates environmentalists (and trees) and can somebody make Gary Siplin go away? Please?

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It wasn't exactly the symphony
of rhyming chants and body odor we might have expected in the wake of this year's union fondue party in Wisconsin, but we'll be damned if the pushback displayed outside of the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce building downtown on Thursday, April 21, wasn't impressive. You've probably already heard the skinny - state legislators are carrying the chamber's scented water up in Tallahassee in trying to ram through a bill that would forbid the automatic removal of union dues from the paychecks of the already weakened Florida union faithful. Sounds harmless, right? They can pay their own dues, ooh-rah!

But because this is Florida, and because this is now, the motives behind the legislation are just another painfully transparent Republican chess play in an ever-worsening attack on organized labor and public employees. Why else would the chamber be running advertisements including fake public employees stressing out about making ends meet following their automatic deductions? The chamber is for old white men who eat public employees 
for breakfast with an anti-regulation chaser. Burp!

Fortunately, representatives from just about every union allowed to exist in this right-to-work state - AFSCME, AFL-CIO, SEIU, the police, the firefighters, the teachers, their attorneys, among others - were able to muster what's left of their solidarity for a spirited afternoon announcement: If you're going to fuck with us, we'll fuck you right back in that little spot that still hurts - your pocketbook.

"This is what democracy looks like," read one of the many signs that are starting to get a little dodgy during an era when sane people are being forced to protest in the streets daily. The message behind the signs was more salient, though. Five area banks - Bank of America, Wachovia, PNC, Regions Bank, SunTrust - with comfortable seats on the local chamber's board would soon be faced with the closing of all personal and business accounts associated with the union organizations and their angry rosters. How much could that hurt? According to Steve Clelland, president of the Orlando Professional Fire Fighters IAFF 1365, each rank-and-file member could have from $10 to $10,000 in said banks, and some 50,000 unionites in Orange County are being encouraged to make the leap out of the big banks and into local banks and credit unions. Larger numbers peppered the choreographed microphone handoff peaking at somewhere around $10 million for the more than one million public employees in Florida, but even that number could be too small of an estimate. "It's hard to quantify," added Clelland, who says he's hoping that this is just a start, a shot that will be heard around this failing state. "There is nothing more American, nothing more free market" than kicking the chamber in its bullion balls.

For its part, the chamber played right into the jerk role that had been painted for it, with Florida Chamber spokeswoman Edie Ousley calling the workers "desperate" proponents of "bully tactics" in the Orlando Sentinel; the organization's president, Mark Wilson, went one step further, suggesting that 100 of these serial gripers get an all-expenses paid trip to Economics 101. Hey Mark? What part of that class makes it OK for the local chamber to basically live rent-free on city land? Did we miss that day? Fuckers.

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