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SunRail Loses Labor Backing

Hopes for broad support – including from organized labor – for a proposal to allow central Florida commuter rail dwindled Friday as a major union said the bill being drafted doesn't protect railroad workers' rights.

Organized labor had in past years been a major opponent of Florida's efforts to allow the SunRail commuter rail system in the Orlando area because of the way it dealt with union jobs and liability issues. But hopes rose this year that labor might get on board with the proposal because the plan would use federal money, and the prospect that it would include certain federal worker protections.

But legislation being drafted in anticipation of a possible special session next week doesn't do what unions hoped it would, the AFL-CIO said Friday. The union said the proposal amounts to “government-enabled union busting.”

“It was our goal to achieve a compromise that would allow broad-based support of this legislation that included a wide, bi-partisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats interested in advancing Florida’s public rail system, while at the same time assuring such system created the highest-quality job force and safety conditions possible,” the union umbrella group said in a statement.

The union said the Senate appeared willing to compromise by including worker protections sought by the unions, but that the Florida Department of Transportation was pushing legislation that wouldn't do enough to protect workers, in the union's view.

“The legislation being considered for the proposed special session next week fails Florida workers by continuing to enable FDOT to have unfettered authority to fire railroad workers subject to federal railroad protections and safeguards and replace them with less qualified, less experienced transit employees not subject to federal railroad protections or safeguards,” the union said. “Therefore, the Florida AFL-CIO and our half-million members across Florida must reiterate our strong opposition to the CSX/SunRail transaction and the implementing legislation currently being considered for a special session. “

Officials at the Department of Transportation were unavailable for comment on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

The union will “fight aggressively” against the SunRail enabling legislation until more worker protection is included, the AFL-CIO's president, Mike Williams, said in the statement.

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