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Public Workers Face Recertification Votes; High Bar Set to Remain Unionized

Joyce Russell/IPR
Iowa Public Employee Relations Board Chair Mike Cormack

Election dates have been set in September and October for thousands of public sector workers in Iowa to recertify their unions, or to disband their bargaining units.    

It’s part of Iowa’s new collective bargaining law which critics say will make it harder for unions to continue to represent public employees.     

Currently unions representing public employees remain certified unless workers call for a vote to decertify their bargaining unit.

There's some organizing that's going to have to go on. -Labor lawyer Jay Smith

Instead, the new law requires a recertification vote anytime a contract is about to expire for teachers and social workers, snowplow drivers and prison guards.      

Also, the new voting must reach a higher bar than for previous elections.

“Every single person in the collective bargaining group, whether they vote or not, you have to get 50 percent plus one,” said attorney Jay Smith who represented the Iowa Federation of Labor before the Public Employment Relations Board known as PERB.

That’s unlike all other elections that require a majority of all the votes cast.

“So there’s some organizing that’s going to have to go on for my clients and labor unions to go out and reach those people to see if they want to vote in the affirmative to retain the bargaining representative,” Smith said.      

PERB is in the process of hiring a vendor to conduct the elections.   

This has been an administrative nightmare. -PERB member Jamie Van Fossen

At the same time, the state’s largest public employees union and the state’s largest teachers union are in court challenging the constitutionality of the new law.    

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the Iowa State Education Association filed separate lawsuits shortly after the law went into effect in February. 

Board members say they began work on writing rules for the new law immediately after the governor signed the bill.

“This has been an administrative nightmare,” said board member Jamie Van Fossen.

The law requires elections to be held one year ahead of a contract expiration.

Seventeen hundred workers from 20 local bargaining units will cast ballots from September 12-26.    Six hundred local bargaining units representing 40,000 workers will vote from October 10 through October 24.

Administrative rules to implement the new law will be considered before the Administrative Rules Review Committee in August.

“We’ll continue to look for what works for the state,” said PERB chairman Mike Cormack.