Leaders from several labor unions gathered in front of Gainesville City Hall on Thursday to protest a bill that proposes to give the state control of Gainesville Regional Utilities.
The bill was drafted by Rep. Chuck Clemons (R-Newberry), who will present it to legislators on Friday. Clemons cited issues with customer representation in local government as well as the city’s debt for drafting the bill. GRU officials are currently appointed by the Gainesville City Commission, the proposed bill would give that power to Gov. Ron DeSantis to appoint five volunteers from GRU’s service area.
Bobby Mermer, a coordinator for the Alachua County Labor Coalition, said the bill’s passage could spark a trend in counties across the state.
“No public utility will be safe,” he said. “They will be coming up to Jacksonville again. They’ll be taking over Orlando next. We have to stop it right here, right now.”
Union leaders at the press conference said they were concerned about the shift in power from local to state government. James Ingle, president of IBEW Local Union 1205, said the community deserves to weigh in on a bill focused on local resources.
“Normally, your delegation meeting would be here in town, but it’s not,” he said. “It’s going to be 150 miles from here in Tallahassee at 11 o’clock on the weekday.”
The bill will be presented to a local delegation first before it can be filed with the House for a committee to approve; then the House can vote on it.
Robert Arnold, president of CWA Local 3170, said the new leadership would cause workers to feel uncertain about their representation in government.
“It removes influence from any of the [city] commission candidates that we endorsed,” he said.
He cited the recently filed SB 256 that challenges public sector unions as another major concern that further discourages workers.
“Giving us no voice, no leverage, no platform to influence that outcome…we’re not comfortable with that at all,” he said.
Evelyn Foxx, president of the NAACP Alachua County Branch, said she acknowledges the challenges that GRU experienced and continues to work closely with them. However, she discourages giving the state more control over local matters, she said.
“We just hope that Clemons will back off and let the city of Gainesville run its own business.”