Like many states in the South, racial segregation and an anti-worker environment went hand in hand in Florida, remaining entrenched in the years following Reconstruction. Because the state’s constitution mandated equal representation in both chambers for all of Florida’s 67 counties —regardless of population — control fell to pro-segregationist and pro-business legislators (known as the “Pork Chop Gang”) for decades (until the federal Supreme Court intervened in the 1960s). The gang represented dozens of rural counties in North and Central Florida.
Much like today, lawmakers ended up relying on lobbyists and special interests to draft legislation and push policy agendas, which kept Florida a pro-business (versus pro-worker) state. As a growing number of Floridians joined unions to push for more workplace power, business groups like the Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Farm Bureau Federation began a series of campaigns to slow unionization in the private sector and prevent it in the public sector entirely. Most state leaders favored these regulations, seeing organized labor as a threat to the corporate order. Subsequently, the Legislature passed the 1943 Union Regulation Act. Although the 1943 law did outline workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain (negotiate employment terms through their unions) with employers over hours, pay, and working conditions, most provisions undermined worker power.
For example, the measure required unions to register with the state and charge no more than a $15 initiation fee (about $270 in 2023 dollars), hamstringing unions from staying afloat. The law also made it illegal for a worker to strike or walk off the job if the majority of employees did not vote to do so. Picketing was also regulated: workers could no longer picket beyond the workplace and could only do so “in a reasonable and peaceable manner.” Yet “reasonable and peaceable” left much to interpretation, and indeed, lawsuits ensued when workers were arrested for nonviolent pickets.
With this measure and Florida’s impending right-to-work law that passed a year later, employers felt no obligation to recognize unions or negotiate with them for their employees. This made the Sunshine State “one of the most anti-union states in the nation.” Moreover, in 1959, the Legislature passed SB 563, making it illegal for any public employee to strike, further eroding working Floridians’ power.
For more information about the Pork Chop Gang, visit other policy areas of The Florida Timeline: