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GOP Unveils Sweeping Changes for Public Workers; Democrats Promise a Fight

Joyce Russell/IPR
Firefighters lobbying against collective bargaining bill at Iowa State Capitol

Hundreds of union employees turned out at the statehouse in solidarity with public sector workers whose collective bargaining rights are on the line under the new Republican majority. 

Bills were introduced today in the House and Senate to significantly alter the state’s 40-year-old collective bargaining law, setting up what will be a bitter battle with minority Democrats. 

What's disgusting? Union busting

Public workers such as firefighters and teachers filled the statehouse rotunda.   

They were joined by private sector friends including steelworkers, plumbers, autoworkers and electrical workers, all opposed to the newly-filed Republican legislation:

“What’s disgusting?  Union busting!” chanted the crowd.

The bills are on the fast track in the House and Senate to get rid of public worker input over everything except wages,  give  an arbitrator more options to rule against unions, make  it harder for a public union to stay certified, and let  a worker be fired without cause.

Firefighters in their helmets stood out in the crowd.   

“We came out here to show the legislators that we oppose the collective bargaining changes,” said Doug Ney,  president of  Iowa Professional Firefighters 

Retiree Tom Jacobs with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees worked at the power plant on the University of Iowa campus.  

He was around in the 70’s for the first negotiations under the state’s brand new collective bargaining law:

The dividend is better service to Iowans

“I feel like an uncle going to pay my last respects to collective bargaining  and employees having an input into their working conditions,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs is the kind of public employee the unions revere for their public service.   He was part of the crew that kept power going to UI Hospitals and Clinics during the flood of 2008.  

But backers of the bill reject the picture union activists are painting. 

"If it was union busting, what we would have done was rip Chapter 20 right out of the Code Book,” said Republican House Labor Committee Chair Rep. Dave Deyoe (R-Nevada).

Chapter 20 is Iowa’s collective bargaining statute.

Deyoe says under the current law, the scales in contract negotiations have been tipped toward the unions and the bill will change that.

The head of the state’s largest teachers’ union, the Iowa State Education Association, rejects that characterization.

“They talk about tipping the scales,” said Tammy Wawro.  “They took the scales and threw it out the window."

“I am beyond angry today,” Wawro added.  “I am mortified.” 

The bill makes it easier for school boards to fire bad teachers, and lets districts make decisions based on merit instead of time served.  

Credit Joyce Russell/IPR
Iowa State Education Association President Tammy Wawro

Wawro says there are many things public workers would not be able to bargain over any more.

“Insurance, leaves of absence, political activity, supplemental pay, transfer procedures, procedures for staff reduction,” she said. 

Union activists say the new majority party didn’t campaign to “blow up Chapter 20.” But Republicans did make clear their intentions in their party platform.

“We call for legislation that would eliminate all public sector unions,” the party platform reads.

GOP leaders say the collective bargaining law has become too costly, and the legislation will help turn that around.    

"The dividend is better service to Iowans at lower cost, better teachers in the classroom, and giving our local supervisors, our local school boards the decision-making ability to affect that kind of change," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock).

Governor Branstad said the bill will give taxpayers a seat at the table.   The Iowa Taxpayers Association issued a statement applauding the bill. 

With fierce Democratic opposition, Rep. Deyoe predicted as much as several days of debate once the bills reach the full House and Senate.    

“And I’m going to stand firmly against every bit of it,” said Sen. Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo).