Gainesville’s CWA union ‘fighting to survive’ with looming August deadline 

Gainesville City Hall
Gainesville City Hall
Photo by Suzette Cook

Following a new state law, Gainesville’s Communication Workers of America #3170 needs to increase its number of union members or face dissolution in August. 

The CWA serves as the union for over a thousand workers in the city of Gainesville, the Alachua County Library District and Gainesville Housing Authority. Currently, each separate group of workers has its own unit under the CWA umbrella, and each unit needs 60% of workers to sign up for the union to survive.  

Unions across Florida have scrambled to meet the 60% threshold, with dozens falling short and getting decertified. The new state law, Senate Bill 256 from the 2023 session, has exemptions for law enforcement, fire, correctional officers or correctional probation officers unions.  

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Jenn Powell, organizer for CWA 3170, said unions from across the state spoke against the bill in Tallahassee. Since then, tens of thousands of workers have lost their union, according to WLRN

“Now, basically, our whole job is to survive,” Powell said. “It’s been a really, really difficult year, but here we are.”   

Besides creating the 60% threshold, SB-256 also prohibits union dues from being automatically deducted from an employee’s payroll. She said the CWA lost more than 200 members the day the new law started.   

The union has had to educate about the changes, explaining that payroll deductions aren’t allowed for the CWA union and helping them set up new automatic payments.  

The library union, Powell said, bounced back quickly after the law forced member dues to stop. She said the number of library workers in the union continues to hover around the 60% threshold.  

The Gainesville Housing Authority remains below the threshold, and Powell said it’s a tough situation since the authority has a small staff with frequent turnover.  

Powell said the Gainesville city workers portion has “pretty dismal” numbers around 20%.  

Combined, the units represent more than 1,500 workers in Alachua County.  

Powell said the union isn’t sure why numbers continue to stay low. She said some employees might wait to be part of the 40% who don’t pay dues but still get included in the contract bargaining. Others might not be aware of the change.  

Cynthia Chestnut
Courtesy city of Gainesville Cynthia Chestnut

Powell said contact with many members can be limited if they don’t have a phone or email address with the union.  

“I also talked to people like they’re not joining yet,” Powell said. “They’re going to wait until the last minute, but we’re running out of time.” 

The local CWA is also getting ready to refile to become a union if it fails to reach the threshold in August. Powell said the union will pass out interest cards, and if they reach 30% of workers filling out a card, the CWA can ask the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) to hold a vote to form a union.  

The CWA has already sent paperwork to split the Gainesville workers unit, creating a separate Gainesville Regional Utilities workers union. Powell said PERC hasn’t made a ruling yet. She said the CWA has heard that the commission is backlogged with union filings. 

Powell worries that if the CWA needs to collect interest cards and hold a new vote to form a union, delays from PERC could mean months until a vote.  

“The path of least resistance is join the union and get over 60%,” Powell said. “And if there’s no problem, we’ll be negotiating the next contract, which we’ve already begun negotiations, but it may all be in vain.” 

The contract with the city of Gainesville ends on Dec. 31. Negotiations have already started on a monthly basis, and Powell said the city has signaled that it will honor the agreement even if the CWA is decertified in August.    

After that though, there may be no official union to negotiate for the next contract.  

In an interview, Gainesville Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut highlighted local unions as a partner for the city in future projects. She said she hoped the CWA hits the threshold and said the city would remain a partner how it could.  

“I think you will see us committed to supporting our union, supporting all of our unions, because that’s the backbone of our employment,” Chestnut said.  

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At the turn of the 20th C and into the 1930s unions were needed and did great things (read THE JUNGLE by Sinclair Lewis-sobering) to change the lives for the better of workers.Unfortunately corruption is now embedded and leadership in CURRENT unions tend to be there for their own benefit. we now have national labor laws and good state laws governing workers – why are these unions even necessary in 2024? Just askin’ what many might be thinking.

Real Gainesville Citizen and Voter

They are necessary for the protection of the workers . . . who are just as liable for exploitation in 2024 as they were in the in the early part of the last century.


I guess we can agree to disagree. It is an historical fact that there were little-to-no protections for workers prior to the 30’s. We can certsainly learn from history that we need to put things into perspective. The american workforce lives in a “heaven” compared to his forefathers.But thanks for engaging😉

Susan Gudmundsen

In 1978, my dad’s employer started using a new chemical solvent, carelessly, as an aerisol.. My dad started showing symptoms from exposure to this new product, so the employer’s solution was to fire him. Then the Union stepped in, and the employer backtracked and Dad kept his job but was moved to a different area. Shortly after that, more workers started showing symptoms of exposure, and OSHA got involved. But note this was in 1978, well after the 1930’s.


OSHA forced the issue and did it – not the union. Checkmate.,


osha has no jurisdiction over public employees, which are the ones this bill strips union protections from.

Raymond Mellott

The question you need to ask is what ‘problem’ existed that required that law be passed and signed? And why, then were police and first responders exempted?


In an outrageously partisan bill, the Governor and GOP legislators passed this bill which attacks union membership, BUT EXEMPTED THE UNIONS WHICH ENDORSED DESANTIS.

Yeah, that’s right, and they call this freedom.

Bradford Bumpkin

Having a union would be delightful if they did anything for the dues they require.
Spent 28 years working for the city. Every year at budget time the CWA would rattle their sabers preaching layoffs & budget cuts. And every year they came back from negotiations with the same ole song & dance.
The city won’t budge, money is to tight. Yada-Yada kavetch! Time for the rank and file workers to find another union that’ll do something.

Real Gainesville Citizen and Voter

“Senate Bill 256”: Astounding. Just astounding. “They” are really after us, trying to do away with any potential opposition.


Law enforcement, fire, correctional officers or correctional probation officers unions SHOULD and ARE exempted. Their members risk their lives every day to keep us safe. Other workers in the city of Gainesville, the Alachua County Library District and Gainesville Housing Authority do NOT risk their lives every day and they have great benefits.

James Cox

One purpose of a collective bargaining agreement (union), is to maintain a well qualified staff compensated with a fair and equitable benefits package.
As living costs and marketable labor rates rise, the union negotiates to stay competitive.
This is the opposite of what this union did. Fringe benefits, leave structures, pay incentives, retirement programs and labor rates all slowly eroded or remained stagnant. Instead of progressively improving contracts, they removed or traded away valuable benefits.
The union (negotiation team) eventually demonstrated themselves as incompetent or ineffective.