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Iowa Board of Regents receives almost meaningless penalty for violating the law in contract talks with UI grad student union

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Detail of notice PERB ordered the Iowa Board of Regents to publicly post because of its behavior in COGS contract talks.

The Board of Regents acted in bad faith and broke the law during contract negotiations with the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS) in 2016 and 2017, the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) ruled last week.

As punishment for its dishonest and illegal behavior, the Board of Regents will be required to post public notices at the University of Iowa after the fall semester starts, explaining that PERB has ordered the Regents to cease and desist from breaking the law. The Regents were also ordered to pay $1,365 to cover PERB’s expenses in the case.

Of course, members of COGS, the union that represents University of Iowa graduate students and negotiates labor contract on their behalf with the Regents every two years, were already well-aware that the Regents had acted in bad faith.

In December 2018, as COGS was preparing to negotiate its current contract with the Regents, Lauren Szech, then the president of the COGS local at UI, explained to Little Village that the attorney hired by the Regents to conduct negotiations in 2016-17 deliberately delayed substantive contract negotiation until after the Iowa legislature passed a bill gutting the collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions.

In February 2017, Republican majorities in both chambers of the Iowa legislature forced through a bill to change the state’s 1974 law on collective bargaining. Gov. Terry Branstad quickly signed the bill into law. The new law allows state agencies, like the Regents, to refuse to negotiate with unions on any subject other than wages.

After Branstad signed the law, the Regents were ready to negotiate.

“They brought us a one-page wage document, and wouldn’t negotiate at all,” Szech recalled.

“A lot of these things, since we have the right to take them out, we are going to do it,” Mike Gallagher, the attorney for Board of Regents, told COGS.“You may not like it, I understand that.”

Mike Galloway, the attorney for the Board of Regents, listens as COGS members ask questions regarding the Regents contract offer. Wednesday, Dec 12, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann/Little Village

“These things” included all the benefits COGS, which has represented UI grad students since 1996, had won in previous negotiations, except for the base pay-rate.

Many of the benefits that had been cut out of the contract were eventually incorporated into UI policy (“That was a huge fight,” according to Szech), but the university can change its policies to eliminate those benefits if it chooses to. It has no legal obligation to maintain them, as it would if the benefits were included in a labor contract.

An administrative law judge examined a complaint from COGS saying the Regents had not negotiated in good faith, and was able to document what the union suspected — the Regents had violated Iowa law by refusing to engage in good-faith contract talks, because it anticipated the legislature would pass the changes to collective bargaining, allowing it to impose a wage-only contract on COGS.

“A party cannot unilaterally refuse to negotiate or unreasonably delay negotiations because legislation may be forthcoming that is conducive to its objectives,” PERB stated in its decision.

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PERB’s June 14 decision in the COGS case came two days after it issued an almost identical ruling, which found the Regents had engaged in the exact same illegal, bad-faith strategy during 2016-17 contract negotiations with United Faculty, a union representing faculty at the University of Northern Iowa. The penalty in that case is the same as it is the COGS case, except the Regents will only have to pay $688 to cover PERB expenses.

By the time PERB made its ruling, the COGS contract that had been negotiated in bad faith had already expired. The Regents no longer needed to engage in the behavior covered by PERB’s cease and desist order, because state law now permits it to insist on wages-only contracts.

The Regents did exactly that in negotiations for COGS’s current contract, which resulted in another wages-only agreement.


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