After House and Senate approve bill, collective bargaining measure goes to governor

By Kate Hayden and the Associated Press, khayden@charlescitypress.com

Within the span of an hour, legislation that critics claim is aimed at crippling organized labor in Iowa passed through the House 53-47 and the Senate 29-21. Gov. Terry Brandstad applauded Republican lawmakers and it poised to sign it into law.

The passage of the bill is a “slap in the face” to public employees, Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, told the Press.

Sen. Waylon Brown, R-St. Ansgar, did not respond to requests for comment.

“It was done without any collaboration of the people it affects. To me it smells of political payback the way this was handled,” Prichard said.

The legislation could be signed as early as Friday or Monday, Prichard said. From there, the future of negotiations is unclear for public employers and employees.

“This was a very rushed process, so we don’t really know what contracts look like going into the future,” Prichard said.

Reporters tweeting from the Iowa House gallery reported shouts of “shame” from public employees in attendance as the House gaveled out of session. The mood shortly after the vote was very somber, Prichard said.

“There were a lot of public employees in the gallery today, and there were tears about what it meant for them and their jobs,” Prichard said.

“I just hope that given the new reality that we live in now, we continue to treat workers well and respect their service to the state, that we respect what they do and appreciate their hard work,” he added.

The measure prohibits public sector unions from negotiating over several issues, including health insurance and extra pay. The bill proposes that mandatory discussions be limited to base wages. Some public safety employees are exempt from some provisions of the bill.

Republicans have repeatedly denied claims that politics were involved in the legislation. Critics point to the fact that the minority party and labor groups were kept in the dark about the bill’s drafting. It was made public on Feb. 7, before being fast-tracked through committee votes over a few days.

Republicans have repeatedly said the bill will give local governments more flexibility with their budgets and promote talented employees.

Republicans used a rare procedural move in both chambers to force floor votes. This happened despite dozens of pending filibuster challenges from Democrats.

“We did not start this fight,” said Ken Sagar, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, after the chambers debated the legislation simultaneously and passed it “But we will not give up on this fight for the rights and lives of working Iowans.”

The proposal is similar to Wisconsin’s 2011 collective bargaining law that drew large demonstrations in that state. In Iowa, hundreds of people turned out at weekend forums to oppose the bill, which culminated with a large gathering Monday night at the Iowa Capitol. But the building has been relatively empty since then, a stark contrast to the turnout in Wisconsin that made national headlines.

Since the collective bargaining law went into effect in Wisconsin, membership for both public and private unions in the state has dropped 40 percent.

Just before the 53-47 House vote, GOP Rep. Steven Holt called the bill “a win” that would provide greater accountability for all collective bargaining parties.

“We inadvertently created a system that discourages innovation and instead simply protects the status quo,” he said, referencing the 1974 collective bargaining law that was passed by a Republican governor to avoid employee strikes.

Union organizers argue the current law works and ensures employers have a fair seat at the table alongside workers. The Iowa State Education Association, which represents 34,000 Iowa school employees, said the system works so well that more than 160 school districts had settled bargaining contracts in the past week in a rush to avoid complications from the bill.

One of those complications may be a legal challenge. Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Iowa Council 61, said Thursday that his organization would file a lawsuit soon to challenge the bill’s constitutionality.

There are roughly 180,000 public sector employees in Iowa that are covered by union contracts and would be impacted by the legislation. Public safety workers, such as law enforcement officers and firefighters, would be exempt from some provisions of the bill.

Those public safety workers would still be subject to a requirement that unions manually collect dues and that they hold more frequent elections on whether to dismantle. Legal experts who study labor issues say the move is aimed at financially crippling unions. Academics say the ripple effect is weakened unions with reduced membership, less financial stability and a smaller voice in state politics.

Two of the largest public sector unions in Iowa, AFSCME Iowa Council 61 and ISEA, contributed a combined total of more than $1 million to the Iowa Democratic Party in 2016, a figure that is based on available campaign contribution filings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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