AFSCME and Iowa senator exchange ‘slimy’ barbs
Maybe it was the allusion to chickenman. Maybe it was simply bad communication. Or maybe things have actually gotten as bitter and partisan at the statehouse as most Iowans already believe them to be.
After being sent a private letter Tuesday from Danny Homan, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 61 president, Iowa Sen. Mark Chelgren shot back with a public response.
“Earlier today, you sent me a letter condemning me for comments made during a conversation I had with one of your organization’s many lobbyists,” wrote Chelgren. “Your letter makes allegations about me and the conversation I had with your organization’s lobbyists that are completely and utterly untrue.
“Normally, I would respond to a private letter privately, but because the public unions’ fight against the taxpayers is being played out on a national, public stage, I believe that an open letter (and its corresponding transparency) is the proper response to your egregious accusations.”
Homan, who wrote to Chelgren earlier Tuesday, indicated in his letter that “in a conversation with an employee of … AFSCME, you used highly abusive, inappropriate, and demeaning language to describe Iowa’s public employees.” Homan demanded that Chelgren apologize.
What doesn’t seem to be in dispute is that during the exchange with the AFSCME employee Chelgren utilized the word “slimy.” Exactly why that word was used and to whom it was directed remains unclear.
Homan contends that the word was used in reference to public-sector employees — firefighters, teachers, road crew workers and law enforcement officers.
“Not only does this show an incredible amount of disrespect to thousands who have chosen public service as a career, this language was insulting and over the top and clearly shows that you do not respect their hard work,” Homan wrote. “While this kind of language may seem appropriate while riding a bicycle nude on RAGBRAI, it is unacceptable to use in the Iowa Senate.”
Chelgren, who seems to have ignored the allusion to his RAGBRAI chickenman persona, contends that use of “slimy” was to describe his perception of contract negotiations that took place with Gov. Chet Culver, who was serving in a lame duck administration.
“This deal was ‘negotiated’ with your organization behind closed doors after Governor Culver had already lost the election — an election, incidentally, in which your AFSCME Council alone donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the former Governor and the Iowa Democratic Party. I stand by my description of that deal as slimy, and I believe the taxpayers are behind me,” said Chelgren.
It’s hardly the first time that Republicans have been critical of the two-year labor agreement Culver signed in November.
“It was negotiated by the state. The state accepted the initial proposal because it was reasonable, and because of sacrifices made under the 2009-2011 contract. They took a freeze, gave up their deferred compensation match and made other sacrifices. We negotiated in good faith, and the real governor at the time accepted our proposal, and as governor-elect, Terry Branstad had no control,” Homan said at the time.
“Now [Branstad]’s upset that he can’t bargain the contract,” Homan continued. “I’ll see him in two years.”
The two-year pact includes a modest 3 percent pay increase in each year, but did not address key Republican sticking points like personal contributions to health insurance coverage. Feuds between public-sector labor unions like AFSCME and Republicans have erupted throughout the nation following the 2010 election cycle.
A moratorium on project labor agreements signed by Branstad has placed him at odds with the City of Cedar Rapids, governed by former Republican Iowa House Speaker Ron Corbett. Labor rallies at the statehouse have been common this session as House Republicans pushed and debated proposed limits on public-sector collective bargaining. Although the Republican-controlled House did approve such limits following several days of public hearings and debate, the bill, like many other 2011 House pushes, was dead the moment it hit the Democratically-controlled Iowa Senate.