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Organized Labor: Make Next Round of Voting Fairer for Public Workers

Joyce Russell/IPR
Bonnie Winter, Communications Workers of America; labor lawyer Jay Smith; Charlie Wishman, Iowa Federation of Labor

Labor advocates are criticizing problems with the recertification voting that involved thousands of Iowa’s public sector workers this fall.  They want the Public Employment Relations Board to improve the  system before more voting takes place next year.  

Iowa’s new collective bargaining law requires public sector workers to periodically re-endorse their unions, which used to be automatic.  

"You're hindering the union." AFSCME President Danny Homan

This year, 87 percent of teachers, roadworkers, court employees, and others voted to retain their union representation.  

“It is true that labor was retained in the vast majority of those elections,” labor lawyer Jay Smith said at a public hearing before PERB.  “That doesn't mean that we're okay with everything that's in the rules.”  

Smith represents the Iowa Federation of Labor, the Communications Workers of America, and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 235.   Smith said public workers who voted by telephone this fall had  to deal with a confusing and cumbersome phone call, instead of being able to simply vote yes or no for recertification.   

“I got about 4 or 5 calls the first day of voting on Tuesday all before 8:30 in the morning from clients saying the telephone system is screwed up,” Smith said.  “People are not as able to follow it as they should have.” 

"We're going to correct those moving forward." PERB member Jamie Van Fossen

The telephone system was down for about 12 hours on one of the last days of voting.   Advocates said there should be rules in place to extend the voting if, for example, both the phone and computer systems become inoperable early in the voting period.   

Only about 11 percent of the votes were cast by phone, with the rest being tallied online.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Danny Homan said the board failed to keep them advised on the progress of the vote.   He said that kept them from targeting their efforts to get out the vote.

“We should be entitled to some basic information like how many people voted in each bargaining unit every day,” Homan said.   “You are hindering the union.”

PERB conducted the fall elections under emergency rules.   They are now writing permanent rules for the collective bargaining law.  

They vowed to take the unions’ complaints into account.

“We probably should have anticipated a few but we're going to correct those moving forward,” said board member Jamie Van Fossen.

“Some things we thought would be issues weren’t,” added Board Chair Mike Cormack.

Next spring, four bargaining units for municipal utilities will vote for recertification.   Cormack says that election will be conducted either in person or by paper.

As many as 60,000 state workers will participate in recertification voting next fall.