GOP-led collective bargaining bills ‘worse than expected,’ critics say

Public workers gathered last week at the State Capitol to stand up for collective bargaining, and will gather there again Tuesday, Feb. 7. -- photo via Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS).
Public workers gathered last week at the State Capitol to stand up for collective bargaining, and will gather there again Tuesday, Feb. 7. — photo via Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS)

A Republican-led push to end collective bargaining on everything but wages came to fruition Tuesday in the form of two companion bills in the Iowa Senate and House. Critics are calling the proposals, which have been dreaded by public worker unions for weeks, far worse than they expected.

“It’s basically a way to kill unions,” said Landon Elkind, president of the University of Iowa’s graduate student union, the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS). “It’s pretty harsh even for Republicans. It’s worse even than Wisconsin, which is saying a lot.”

Danny Homan, president of the 40,000-member AFSCME Iowa, called the bills part of Gov. Terry Branstad’s “vendetta against public employees.” He also criticized Republican lawmakers for developing the legislation without the input of Democratic lawmakers or union representatives, leaving opponents in the dark about the details until shortly before the bills were introduced.

“Republicans in the House and Senate have cowardly crafted this legislation behind closed doors,” Homan said in his statement. “They have been hiding from those that this affects because it’s easier to betray working men and women without having to first look them in the eye.”

Elkind’s group has been lobbying legislators already for weeks to protest the bills. COGS has also unsuccessfully pressed university officials to guarantee graduate student benefits will remain untouched regardless of the legislation.

He said he was most surprised by a provision in the proposed legislation that would allow pubic workers to be fired without cause.

“That is certainly not something we expected to be in there,” said Mazee Stilwell, AFSCME’s communications director, echoing Elkind’s concerns.

The Republican-led initiative was introduced Tuesday in the form of Senate Bill 213 and House Study Bill 84. The 68-page proposed legislation includes several provisions that opponents say are insensitive to public workers and would weaken unions to the point of near collapse, such as:

  • creating a three percent cap on raises
  • empowering the governor to veto any agreement
  • prohibiting union members from having annual dues automatically deducted from their pay stubs

“Most employers offer voluntary charitable contributions to be taken directly from paychecks. Why are voluntary union members any different?” asked Homan.

Elkind criticized the inclusion of the governor’s veto, saying it doesn’t fit in with the Republican Party’s belief in limited government. He also noted the bill excludes public safety workers like police officers and firefighters, although it does include school teachers. He called the exclusion a political maneuver.

“The Republicans know it’s politically unpopular to attack public safety workers,” he said.

Both union leaders vowed to continue fighting, despite the likelihood that the Republican-controlled Iowa State Legislature would fast-track the bills. In fact, Elkind’s group successfully convinced the Iowa City council Tuesday night to send a letter of support to the Legislature.

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“We will continue fighting for the rights of working men and women in this state,” Homan said, “until every last public employee has the voice on the job they deserve.”

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