Iowa Supreme Court Upholds Limits On Collective Bargaining

May 17, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court has upheld a 2017 law limiting bargaining rights for many state employees. In 4-3 rulings in two separate cases, the court denied arguments made by unions representing teachers and other public workers that the law violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution because it gives more bargaining rights to public safety workers.

The law (HF291) limits contract negotiations for many public employee unions to base wages only, not health insurance or other benefits, although unions with at least 30 percent public safety workers retain more bargaining rights. It also requires unions to recertify before bargaining on each new contract.

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, was floor manager in the House for HF 291. He said in a statement that the decision “affirms our commitment to providing local governments with flexibility and giving taxpayers a seat at the table.”

Sen. Janet Peterson, D-Des Moines, said all Iowa workers should have the right to negotiate on health and safety issues in addition to pay. “By taking away the rights of teachers, firefighters, nurses, correctional officers and other public servants, Republican politicians have done harm to all Iowa workers,” Peterson said in a statement.

In the majority opinion, Justice Thomas Waterman sided with the lower court. He said it’s up to the legislature, not the courts, to set rules around collective bargaining.

“The plaintiffs otherwise must look to the ballot box and the elected branches to change this lawfully enacted statute,” Waterman wrote.

Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote in a dissent that the law violates equal protection because some types of public employees are given different treatment.