A bill to scale back the rights of public workers got its first airing at the statehouse today, one day after it was introduced to broad and noisy criticism. Public workers told house and senate panels the bill guts Iowa’s collective bargaining law which they say has helped raise the standard of living for 130,000 state, county, city, and school employees.
Extra troopers were on hand at the capitol for the hearings.
Rep. Dave Deyoe (R-Nevada) who chairs the House Labor Committee made a plea for civility as public workers and their advocates lined up to speak.
“We ask that we have respect for everybody,” Deyoe said. “No demonstrations.”
But there are provisions in the bill that workers say amount to union-busting, so decorum was hard to enforce.
The bill would make a union regularly jump through hurdles in order to remain the official bargaining unit. And unions will no longer be able to collect their dues through payroll deduction.
Chris Ingstad with Iowans for Tax Relief says the government should not be helping out the unions.
“The state's payroll system collects union dues,” Ingstad said. “Dues they use to support political activity that pay for lobbyists who try to win more taxpayer funded benefits.”
“That is also categorically false,” replied Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines.) “Please do not make stuff up.”
Hunter says the dues the state collects do not support the union’s political activities. He says those contributions are collected in a separate fund.
Klein also cited a study he says shows public workers in Iowa are overpaid, making 50 percent more than workers in the private sector.
“That’s based on a Department of Labor study,” Ingstad said.
“What study was that?” Hunter asked. “Did the U.S. Department of Labor make that study?”
“I believe so,” Ingstad said.
“I believe not,” Hunter replied.
Hunter argued the study was by a conservative group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council. He said the studies’ comparisons were flawed.
Meanwhile, social workers, nurses, snow-plow drivers, and prison guards critiqued the bill.
It puts a cap on their pay, lets employers fire them without cause, and takes a whole host of workplace issues off the bargaining table, including health benefits.
“My daughter had cystic fibrosis,” said Jason Back, choking back tears.
Back is a paramedic for Madison County.
“We bargained for our insurance,” Back said. “Do you want to take that away?”
State law mandates that public workers be offered health insurance. But the workers don’t know how much more they’re going to have to pay once insurance is no longer bargained.
Charlie Wishman with the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO made a broader appeal on behalf of public workers and the benefits and job security they enjoy.
“So many people have gotten into the middle class because of Chapter 20,” Wishman said, his voice rising. “Sorry if I’m worked up about this.”
Chapter 20 is the code that governs collective bargaining for public workers in Iowa.
While Democrats are fighting hard against the bill, a few Republicans also spoke out against it, including a former education advisor to Governor Branstad, a Mitchellville police officer, and the Woodbury County Sheriff.
As the lone Democrat on the panel made his last appeal against the bill, Rep. Deyoe briefly lost control of the room.
Activists clapped and shouted. One hurled an obscenity at Deyoe as he made his way out of the room.
“I thought it would be worse,” Deyoe said.
Deyoe’s colleague on the panel, Rep. Steven Holt (R-Denison), dismissed the critics’ concerns.
“There’s nothing we’re doing that’s going to take people out of the middle class,” Holt said. “That’s just a fallacy.”
Holt says the bill will give state agencies, cities, counties, and schools some of the same tools that managers in the private sector use. He says that will save taxpayers money, and make government more efficient.
A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for Monday night at the capitol. Votes in the full House and Senate are likely next week.