Branstad’s back-door tactics go too far


by Bryan Ingram

Education majors and students who are entering the public sector might want to reconsider their career paths after the latest political sneak attack by Governor Terry Branstad. The recently introduced House Study Bill 117 (HSB 117) left future public benefits vulnerable to government attacks by suggesting that negotiating powers should drastically shift from the people to the government.

While Branstad claimed, in an Associated Press (AP) interview, that he is not trying to end collective bargaining for unions, the new bill places a serious dent in the negotiating power of the public. If passed, public employees would have no say in their retirement benefits, health insurance, and imminent layoff considerations.

Ending negotiations between the government and unions not only leaves public-employee benefits defenseless to government reductions but it also dangerously shifts power into the court of the government. Limited negotiating power means an increase in government control which in-turn could lead to a dangerous regression to workforce policy. In theory, a teacher who makes a minimal salary could now be required to drastically reduce their already low salary to pay for additional health care and retirement benefits.

Branstad’s historical record might shed light on why his back-door tactics are attacking public workers. According to the AP, in his previous term, Branstad refused payment to a labor contract even though it was legitimately bargained for with state labor unions. Branstad was eventually forced by the Iowa Supreme Court to pay the negotiated contract. The new bill would conveniently allow Branstad to forgo such an intervention. Pending approval, Branstad could now dictate benefits to public workers rather than negotiate them. Perhaps Branstad learned from his earlier mistakes.

Proponents to the bill argue that it is necessary to ensure economic stability. However, even if reducing public employee’s benefits is absolutely necessary, it shouldn’t be done by eliminating negotiating powers. Rather, it should be done through the current and equally balanced negotiating channels. Instead, greedy politicians are masking their desire for more control with the need to cut expenses.

If reducing Iowa’s debt is really the only reason for the new bill, why isn’t the government trying to collect revenue from higher income sources? Certainly attacking public workers – who traditionally make less than private workers – isn’t the only option. Should low-paid teachers and public workers really be on the hook for Iowa’s debt? What about highly profiting corporations and higher income individuals? Not only is it wrong to attack such a demographic but it is economically unfeasible to expect lower-income professions to support the state economy. Certainly taxation to the more stable upper-income levels would be more rational.

Students who are anticipating entering the public sector, including fire fighters, police officers and educators, might want to consider contacting their state representatives to save their future benefits. Students can find their state representative by accessing Additional groups that are against the bill include: Professional Fire Fighters, State Police Officers Council and the Iowa State Education Association. If you are concerned about future public workers benefits, don’t let Branstad’s sleight-of-hand politics allow HSB 117 to gain momentum in the Iowa legislature.

While the result of HSB 117 could potentially reduce a small portion of government spending, the cost would be far too great to justify its implementation. Public workers – who are some of the lowest paid workers in our state – would sacrifice their bargaining power and put their important benefits at risk.