Gov. signs bill gutting most collective bargaining rights

Legislation affects roughly 180,000 public sector employees in Iowa

by Alex Kirkpatrick, Digital Editor

DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Terry Branstad signed a controversial bill on Friday that would significantly reduce negotiation power for public employees in Iowa, including teachers, nurses and correctional officers, less than 24 hours after the Republican-led Legislature approved the measure.

The law, which went into effect immediately, eliminates most collective bargaining rights for public workers in the state, which includes negotiating over health insurance, staff reduction and extra pay. Most public-sector union contract negotiations will be limited to base wages.

“I’m very pleased to sign this bill into law,” Branstad said. “These necessary reforms to our antiquated 43-year-old public employee collective bargaining law bring fairness for Iowa taxpayers and flexibility to public employees.”

“This bill also gives local governments, schools and state government greater freedom in managing their resources with the opportunity to reward good public employees,” he added.

The move follows a similar collective bargaining law that went into effect in Iowa’s northeastern neighbor of Wisconsin, in which membership had decreased 40 percent for both public and private unions in that state. A series of large demonstrations followed the bill’s passage in 2011.

Ronda Priebe, a French teacher at Indianola High School who has been an educator for 31 years in the state of Iowa, condemned Iowa lawmakers’ actions, saying her life was “voted away… by a body of elected officials that (doesn’t) value education or the future of our state.”

“I am saddened that while I love what I do, that has been stripped of me by people who do not value the future of Iowa,” Priebe said. “How can young people fathom to live or stay in a state who do not believe in our children and their education or believe in the people who make up the majority of this state? What a sad day for Iowa history.”

Democrats had tried to stop the bill, or at least reduce its impact, by introducing dozens of amendments, many of which were not discussed after Republicans ended debate using a rare procedural move.

The legislation affects approximately 180,000 public sector employees in Iowa who are covered by union contracts, such as Colton Calvert, a social studies teacher at Roland-Story High School and 2012 Simpson College graduate, who said the long-term effects could be problematic.

“I don’t think public schools will touch our benefits and salaries if they want to keep teachers at their schools,” he said. “If they go down that road, it will reduce the quality of education and lead to less teachers, and, therefore, hurt students. I fear that in the long run, this may not be what’s best for kids.”

Republicans have said the legislation will give local governments more flexibility with their budgets and promote talented employees.

State Rep. Steven Holt, a Republican from Denison, called the bill a “win” before the 53-47 House vote Thursday, saying it would reform governments to make it more efficient for Iowans.

“This bill, I believe heart and soul, is a win for all Iowans and the delivery of a promise from Republicans that we would reform governments to make it more efficient for the people for Iowa,” said Holt, the bill’s floor manager in the House. “Smaller, smarter, innovative government is in this bill.”

A 1974 collective bargaining law was passed by a Republican governor to avoid employee strikes, which Holt said was a system that “discourages innovation and instead simply protects the status quo.”

There are some exemptions to the law’s provisions, including public safety workers like law enforcement officers and firefighters, who will have a broader range of issues to be considered when negotiating a contract.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61 in Des Moines that represents 40,000 public employees, said it will challenge the constitutionality of sweeping changes to the state’s collective bargaining laws.