Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Iowa Gets Right To Work (For Less)--Two Statements

The following comes from the Northwest Labor Press:

Is Iowa the next Wisconsin? Under Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin famously stripped public employees of all meaningful union rights in a draconian piece of 2010 legislation. Now Iowa has passed a very similar law. House File 291 ends for all intents and purposes, the collective bargaining rights of 184,000 public employees.

Under the new law, public employee unions will only be allowed to negotiate base wages, nothing else, and they can never bargain increases that are more than inflation. Health insurance, vacation time, evaluation procedures, seniority-related benefits … none of those things can be part of union contracts going forward. And public-employee unions would be barred from automatically deducting union dues and political contributions from members’ checks. Finally, public employees will be required to re-certify that they want to be in a union with each new contract, and to continue to be union-represented, an outright majority of workers in a bargaining unit would have to vote for the union, not just a majority of those who show up to vote.

In case there was any doubt as to who inspired the union-killing legislation, on Feb. 13, Scott Walker delivered a pep talk to 29 Iowa Senate Republicans in a 10-minute Skype conference call.

The bill exempted police and firefighters from some of the changes, but many of them showed up in uniform and rallied alongside the hundreds of protesters who flooded the Capitol rotunda in a show of opposition. More than 1,100 people registered to speak in opposition to the bill, while only about two dozen registered in support.

On Feb. 16 the bill passed the Iowa House 53 to 47 and the Iowa Senate 29-21. Not a single Democrat voted in favor, though six Republicans voted against it. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) signed it into law the very next day, and the law takes effect immediately.

The signing took place in a private ceremony, closed to the press, but open to the head of Iowa chapter of a group that lobbied for the bill — Americans for Prosperity, funded by the billionaire Koch brothers.

Having all-but-destroyed public employee union rights that have been in place since 1974, Gov. Branstad isn’t planning to stick around: He’s President Donald Trump’s nominee for ambassador to China.

AFSCME, which represents 40,000 Iowa public employees, has filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the law.

The following comes from the member-run United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America:

Republicans in both houses of the Iowa state legislature introduced a bill aimed at destroying public sector unions and the rights of public employees in that state. The legislation is designed to render collective bargaining meaningless by making it illegal to negotiate most of the subjects now covered by contracts, and to cripple unions financially by eliminating the dues check-off process which union members voluntarily pay to support their union’s activities. UE’s national officers are committed to providing whatever resources are needed to help our Iowa members fight this bill and to preserve our fighting union if the bill is passed.

The bill, which Republicans seem determined to ram through in just a few days with almost no debate or public input, is meant to rob 184,000 Iowa public employees of basic labor rights. That includes more than 6,000 Iowa public workers represented by the UE in 17 bargaining units.

The pending bill (known as House Study Bill 84 and Senate File 213) attempts to gut the existing state collective bargaining law, Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code. Chapter 20 passed the legislature in 1974 with bipartisan support and was signed into law by Republican Governor Robert Ray. The purpose of the law, as it says in its introduction, is to promote harmonious and cooperative relationships between government and its employees. But the current governor, Terry Branstad, was one of only a handful of Republican members of the legislature who voted against Chapter 20, and he has remained hostile to public employees and their unions throughout his long political career. His dream of crushing organized labor was frustrated because, until the recent election, Republicans did not control both houses of the Iowa legislature. Now that they do, Branstad and his followers have launched a blitzkrieg attack on workers.

Branstad’s bill is the most extreme, outrageous attack on collective bargaining rights we have yet seen. It is worse than the 2011 attack on union’s in Wisconsin under Scott Walker and worse in many ways than public employee law in North Carolina and Virginia, where voluntary dues deductions and grievance procedures are permitted.

For all public employees except “public safety employees” (police and fire), the bill makes it illegal to negotiate healthcare, transfers, job evaluations, procedures for workforce reductions, subcontracting, or anything related to seniority. Unions will not be permitted to negotiate payroll deduction of union dues, even though Iowa has long been a “right-to-work” state and all employees who sign up to pay dues do so voluntarily. This provision is clearly designed to cut off unions’ operating revenue so that it is difficult for our locals to function. It will go into effect immediately upon passage. Incredibly, unions will not even be permitted to negotiate a grievance procedure to enforce the contract.

The only topic on which unions will retain bargaining rights is wages, and even then wage bargaining shall be largely meaningless. If the employer and union don’t reach agreement, the dispute will be resolved through binding arbitration (as occurs under current Iowa law.) But the new law will allow the arbitrator to grant a wage increase of no more than 3 percent or the percentage increase in the consumer price index, whichever is less.

Every union representing public employees will have to win a recertification vote one year before the expiration of each contract. The majority of employees in the bargaining unit most vote to retain the union (not just a majority of those voting – a standard that neither the governor nor a single member of the legislature could meet in their own elections). Furthermore, the union must pay the state in advance for the costs of conducting elections, which is yet another attack on union finances.

Our members in Iowa are fighting back, and have besieged their legislators both in Des Moines and at events in their districts. In addition to providing our nine Iowa locals all resources necessary to conduct the fight against this bill, we and our Iowa leadership are evaluating every option on how to continue the struggle for workers’ rights under what may become much more difficult circumstances. Our Iowa members deserve and will receive the support of the entire UE.

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