Workers of all races continued to push back against state leaders’ anti-union policies in the mid-20th century. A series of public worker strikes, including by telephone utility employees in the late 1940s, led the Legislature to retaliate with harsher restrictions. At first, Florida outlawed striking by public utility workers in particular, deeming their refusal to work a public safety concern. In the years that followed, a series of national strikes emerged, some of which spread to Florida and concerned state elected officials. The Teamsters Union had become powerful throughout the country, and Florida business owners and legislators now feared law enforcement officers would join the union’s ranks.
This growing fear of worker power culminated in the Legislature’s outlaw of striking for all public employees in the state in 1959. Specifically, SB 563 stated that no one who worked for the state or local government was allowed to strike against those governments or be a member of an organization of public employees that allows striking (e.g., unions that strike). Despite the law stating public workers were still free to join unions and could not be discriminated against, the law skirted around collective bargaining rights and in practice, made unionization less likely as many public unions did support striking among their members at the time. That would change in less than a decade, however, when the state added much harsher penalties for striking in 1968. As such, SB 563 was yet another attempt to limit workers’ power and give employers the upper hand.
Notably, while most public workers were white at this time, the share of workers of color in government was growing. Whereas 13 percent of government workers were people of color in 1940, between 1950 and 1970, Floridians of color in the public sector would increase from 15 to 18 percent. As a result, undermining public workers’ rights was increasingly harmful to people of color, who already earned less than their white peers, faced discrimination in hiring, and lacked power in the workplace.