Iowa AFSCME members approve new 2-year contract

AFSCME Iowa Council 61 announced on December 22 that its membership overwhelmingly approved a new contract covering fiscal years 2012 and 2013. The vote means Governor-elect Terry Branstad will not be able to persuade state employees to accept a pay freeze in the name of budget austerity.

Details on the vote and more are after the jump.

Excerpt from an AFSCME Iowa Council 61 press release of December 22:

By a margin of 98.2% to 1.8%, AFSCME Iowa state employee members voted “YES” to approve the contract in one of the largest contract ratification votes in the Union’s history.

There were no changes in contract language with the exception of Article IX, Wages and Fringe Benefits.  The changes to that section are:

July 1, 2011 – 2% across the board salary increase

January 1, 2012 – 1% across the board salary increase

July 1, 2012 – 2% across the board salary increase

January 1, 2013 – 1% across the board salary increase

“I want to thank all AFSCME membership covered by the state master agreement for their overwhelming response in turning out for this ratification vote.  Considering the pay freezes, unpaid days, and cuts they have gone through for several years now, they are well deserving of these reasonable across the board salary increases.  I believe that the actions that the members of this Union have agreed to in the past two years have helped Iowa to the budget surplus that the state now has.” said Danny Homan, President of AFSCME Iowa Council 61.

AFSCME has more than 9,000 dues-paying members, but the new contract will cover approximately 20,000 state workers. Branstad and his associates have lambasted Governor Chet Culver for accepting the largest state employee union’s first offer instead of letting Branstad complete negotiations for a contract that will cover half of his term in office. (When Branstad left office, he allowed his successor Tom Vilsack to finish negotiating a new AFSCME contract in 1999.) The new contract is expected to cost the state budget an additional $200 million over two years, beginning on July 1, 2011.

Homan’s comment about the surplus refers to the $950 million surplus that Iowa is now projected to have at the close of the current fiscal year. On June 30, 2011, the general fund’s ending balance is expected to be $514.5 million, while Iowa will have another $434 million in reserve accounts. During this year’s gubernatorial campaign, Branstad frequently boasted that he left the state with a $900 million surplus in 1999. That was at the height of the Clinton-era economic boom. It’s a lot more difficult to have a budget surplus coming out of the worst recession since World War II.

Iowa Republicans counter that the state budget is still very tight, since hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus money used to support the 2011 budget will not be available going forward. Still, Iowa’s finances are in far better shape than most other states. Don’t expect Republicans to give Culver and statehouse Democrats any credit for this surplus–the Iowa GOP has invested a lot in myth-making about the so-called billion-dollar deficit.

Some Republicans have suggested that Branstad could re-open contract negotiations with AFSCME when he takes office. According to Branstad’s spokesman Tim Albrecht, “We would want to find a resolution that is supportable and sustainable. […] The agreements that have been reached are not sustainable.” Homan slammed the door on that option in a December 21 statement:

AFSCME Iowa Council 61 is willing to have conversations with the Governor-elect, but in no way by having these conversations does this signal any intent to re-open contract negotiations with the state of Iowa.  For such an event to occur, it would take mutual agreement from both parties to open the contract, and AFSCME Iowa Council 61 has a process which will be followed before even considering such a request.

State employees that have contacted us are growing weary of these kinds of attacks that are meant to coerce and frighten them into rejecting the state contract before ratification of that contract is completed, or even before Governor-elect Branstad takes office.  This behavior by the Governor-elect is totally unacceptable in my view.  

I think Republicans are setting public employee unions up to be the scapegoat when some big budget-cutting and job-creation promises fall short. Already conservative blogger and WHO radio newsman Gary Barrett has declared that Culver’s agreement with AFSCME means “any chance of any meaningful action by the legislature in 2011 to increase employment, and bring more business to the state is gone.” That will be a convenient excuse when Branstad’s budget promises don’t add up, and Republican spending proposals don’t save as much money as Iowans have been led to expect. Incidentally, some economists question Branstad’s claim that cutting corporate income taxes and commercial property taxes will stimulate the state economy and put Iowa on track to create 200,000 new jobs over five years, as Branstad has promised.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: Here is some background on Branstad’s chief labor relations consultant, Leon Shearer:

Shearer, a native of Little Sioux, after graduation from the University of Iowa School of Law became an attorney in Los Angeles until 1969, when he returned to Iowa and joined Thoma, Schoenthal, Davis Hockenberg and Wine in Des Moines, until 1987, when he formed Shearer, Templer and Pingel in West Des Moines. He later served as general counsel and vice president of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., where he ran the worldwide legal operation and was an integral part of the team involved in the Pioneer merger with DuPont.

When Shearer returned to Iowa from Los Angeles, he immersed himself into the hotbed of labor relations that was swirling within the packing, trucking, warehousing and construction industries in Iowa, assisting management in resolving key labor issues.  He was involved in numerous negotiations and arbitrations.

“I have seen tremendous changes in the labor relations field over the years,” said Shearer. “I am pleased that while I always represented management, I can call many labor representatives my friend. I look forward to working on behalf of the Branstad-Reynolds administration to find workable solutions with labor leaders in state government.”

Shearer’s work also includes acting on behalf of various local governmental entities – including counties, school districts and county hospitals – in resolving labor issues.

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