Iowa labor fights against Wisconsin-like collective bargaining bill
Around 1,000 labor union members and their supporters rallied outside the Iowa Capitol Tuesday, showing solidarity with public employees in Wisconsin who are fighting off legislation aimed at taking away their collective bargaining rights.
Meanwhile, Iowa House Republicans moved legislation to committee that makes numerous changes to collective bargaining rights for public employees in the Hawkeye State.
Under the bill, House Study Bill 117, unions would no longer be allowed to negotiate their health insurance or retirement plans. It would require an arbitrator to take private sector compensation packages into consideration before making a final determination in a labor dispute, and arbitrators would not be allowed to chose a final agreement that forced governments to raise taxes to pay for it. Additionally, arbitrators would no longer have to consider past contracts between a public employer and its employee unions.
Restrictions or limitations on outsourcing would be lifted, and unions would no longer have any say regarding layoffs. The bill also allows employees to become “free agents,” who can negotiate their terms of employment directly with employers even if they are in a union shop.
Lastly, the legislation would give the legislature and governor veto power on any arbitrators decision.
“The Republican bill to end collective bargaining will take away rights from police officers, fire fighters, state troopers, teachers, and other workers who clear our streets after a snow storm and protect Iowa kids in abusive homes,” said state Rep. Nate Willems (D-Lisbon). “Our top priority this year should be creating new jobs and opportunities for working families in Iowa and the bill being considered by Republicans is a step in the wrong direction. It’s another blow to Iowa’s middle class.”
Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn voiced support for changes to collective bargaining in Iowa, saying in a statement to the press that for far too long “the taxpayers have been absent in one-sided bargaining that has inflated the state’s budget and created a public class whose wages and benefits outpace those competing in the private sector. I look forward to the continued leadership from Iowa Republicans at the statehouse to bring these long overdue reforms to law.”
At the rally, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) called the push by Republicans an “all-out assault on middle-class Iowans.”
“There is not a dime’s bit of difference between what they are proposing here in Iowa and the travesty that is unfolding in Wisconsin,” Gronstal said. “Finally, I want to make a promise to you: Iowa Democrats won’t be fooled. Read my lips: We will fight with you, for you and beside you every step of the way.”
Republican Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday that he doesn’t favor a Wisconsin-style law in Iowa. But Branstad’s labor adviser, Leon Shearer, released a report earlier this year slamming the state’s collective bargaining system and calling for numerous changes. The report was immediately criticized, however, for relying too heavily on wage figures that concluded Iowa’s public employees are overpaid when compared with workers in similar private sector positions. David Swenson, an economist at Iowa State University, panned the report, saying it distorted the true picture of private versus public sector salaries because it did not have controls or allow for education level or employment status.
The nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project issued a new report Tuesday showing public-sector employees actually make less than their private-sector counterparts. When education, work experience, annual hours worked, race, sex, disability status and firm size are accounted for, male public-sector workers earn nearly 12 percent less and female public-sector workers earn over 16 percent less than private-sector workers.