House, Senate send collective bargaining bill to Gov. Branstad’s desk

Both the Iowa House and Senate passed an overhaul of Iowa’s collective bargaining measures on Thursday, sending the controversial bill on to Gov. Terry Branstad to be signed into law. The votes followed measures in both chambers to set a deadline on debate — the House cut off debate at noon and the Senate, after pulling an all-nighter Wednesday into Thursday morning, cut off debate at 2 p.m.

Photo by Martin aka Maha via Flickr

Six House Republicans voted against the bill in a 53-47 vote, sending House File 291 on to the Senate, where it passed along party lines 29-21 (with Democrats and the one independent senator, Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan, voting against the bill). Branstad is expected to approve the bill, which will take effect immediately after it it signed.

“This new anti-worker law takes away the health care security and lowers the standard of living for hundreds of thousands of working families,” Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg, of Cedar Rapids, said in a press release. “This legislation is wildly unpopular because it hurts Iowa families.”

Echoing a frequent refrain from opponents of the bill during public hearings and protests, Hogg said in the statement that the current collective bargaining measures, in place for 40 years, worked.

“Our current collective bargaining law works,” he said. “Originally passed to stop strikes, the law has served Iowans, employees and public employers well for more than 40 years.”

The bill limits most public-sector unions from negotiating for anything beyond base wages — with wage increases capped at either three percent or a cost of living increase, whichever is lower. This takes away the ability of public employees to bargain for things like health insurance.

Public safety workers, including firefighters and police officers, were excluded, leaving them with a slightly wider field of negotiation topics. But both public safety workers and other public employees would fall under other restrictions in the bill, such as no longer being able to have dues deducted from paychecks. Motor vehicle enforcement officers were added into the definition of public safety employees, but further efforts to expand the definition to include individuals such as campus police officers and correctional officers failed.

The Senate did approve an amendment reinserting a requirement that employees must be fired “for cause,” where previous versions of the bill would have made workers at-will employees.

A statement posted by the Iowa House Democrats argued that Republicans were favoring corporate special interest over the interests of Iowans, interspersing each each paragraph with the phrase: “It’s shameful.”

“Our teachers, firefighters, nurses, snow plow drivers, correctional officers and other workers deserve better,” the statement said. “They deserve fairness and a voice in their own workplace. House Democrats will never stop fighting for working families across Iowa.”

Republican legislators have argued that the bill returns control to local governments and school boards, and also benefits taxpayers.

“Over the last 40 years, largely due to arbitration requirements, the scales have been tipped to favor government unions and put management and taxpayers at a disadvantage,” House Speaker Linda Upmeyer said in a press release last Friday.

Upmeyer also stated that the bill would allow schools to reward teachers based on merit, rather than just seniority.

“This gives schools a great opportunity to recruit and retain the best teachers, especially in rural areas,” she said in the statement.

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