Branstad gives up trying to block union pay raises

Terry Branstad was incensed last year when outgoing Governor Chet Culver quickly agreed to contract terms proposed by AFSCME and other unions representing state employees. Culver signed off on AFSCME’s request for a 2 percent across-the-board raise on July 1, 2011, followed by a 1 percent raise on January 1, 2012, another 2 percent raise on July 1, 2012, and a 1 percent raise on January 1, 2013. Other unions also asked for modest wage increases during the next two fiscal years.

On principle, Branstad felt Culver should have left the negotiating to the person who would be governor during the contract period. As a practical matter, Branstad insisted that the state of Iowa could not afford the salary hikes. He and other administration officials called on public sector unions to renegotiate the contracts, but union leaders refused to come back to the negotiating table.

This week Branstad formally asked the state legislature to give non-union state employees the same pay increases those represented by unions will receive.

While the governor continues to believe this contract spends too much money at a time when the state cannot afford it, there are not two classes of state employees, everyone is together and should be treated the same,” [Branstad’s spokesman Tim] Albrecht said.

The governor has not recommended the state pay for the upcoming salary increases. That means that state departments must find the money elsewhere in their budgets to pay for the salary increases.

House Study Bill 247 provides for the salary increases, as well as a few other things on the governor’s wish list. For instance, the bill would “lift the cap on the salary of Iowa’s economic development director, which Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, described as troubling.”

AFSCME and other state employee unions won this round, but count on a bruising battle when it’s time to negotiate contracts covering fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Branstad will resist pay increases and will demand benefit cuts, including substantial employee contributions to health insurance expenses. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the contracts for state employee unions end up in arbitration during the next go-around.

If Republicans gain an Iowa Senate majority in the 2012 elections, union-busting will be high on the agenda. A bill to limit state employees’ collective bargaining rights and curtail binding arbitration passed the Iowa House in March after a marathon floor debate. The bill died in the Iowa Senate Labor Committee.

P.S.—Branstad isn’t getting along much better with private-sector unions. Yesterday the Central Iowa Building and Construction Trades Council and the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades Council filed a federal lawsuit seeking to force the governor and other state entities to honor project labor agreements for construction projects in Coralville and Marshalltown.

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Iowa House cuts off debate, approves collective bargaining bill

Three days into floor discussion of a bill to reduce public employee bargaining rights, Iowa House Republicans voted to cut off debate on House File 525 yesterday. At least 80 percent of more than 100 amendments proposed by House Democrats had not been discussed yet. The House proceeded to reject the remaining Democratic-proposed amendments in a quick series of votes, and the final bill passed 57 to 39. The House Journal (pdf) contains details on yesterday’s debate, including all the roll calls. Most of the votes went along party lines. I was surprised to see one House Republican (Gary Worthan of district 52) vote with the whole Democratic caucus against final passage of the bill. I wonder whether he accidentally pressed the wrong button there, because he voted with the rest of the Republicans on ending debate and lots of amendments.

House Democrats were outraged by the Republican maneuver and the fact that the House switchboard wasn’t working Friday morning (which House Speaker Kraig Paulsen said was an oversight). Jason Clayworth noted at the Des Moines Register, “Limiting debate without the prior agreement to both parties is rare but not unique. Democrats, for example, limited debate in 2009 on another union bill known as prevailing wage that would have setting standards for minimum pay and benefits on government projects.”

Paulsen said the bill “addresses the cost of government in Iowa” by “leveling the playing field for taxpayers.” I am so tired of Republicans scapegoating public employees for our budgetary constraints. Iowa is in better fiscal condition than more than 40 other states. In any event, there is “no correlation between state budget shortfalls and union negotiating laws”:

“The thing that’s driving budget shortfalls is the impact of the national economy on state revenues,” said Elizabeth McNichol of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research group in Washington, D.C. “It’s definitely other factors driving these shortfalls,” rather than union agreements, she said. […]

Five states – Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – prohibit public employee union negotiations. Each of those states faces budget shortfalls that cumulatively amount to almost $20 billion, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the National Council on Teacher Quality say.

Texas, one of the states prohibiting public union negotiations, has one of the largest projected budget shortfalls for next year, figured as a percentage of the current budget.

Iowa is among states with one of the lowest projected shortfalls for next year.

Forty-five states face budget shortfalls for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Of the five states that do not face budget shortfalls, each allows some type of public employee union bargaining.

Iowa’s public employees are paid less than their private sector counterparts when education levels, experience and hours worked are taken into account. Republicans tell us modest raises (about 3 percent per year) for state employees are unaffordable because they would cost $414 million over two years (if non-contract employees get the same pay increases). Yet David Osterberg pointed out this week,

The Iowa House has proposed cutting state income taxes by 20 percent. That would cost $350 million in 2012 and $700 million per year subsequently.

The governor has proposed lowering the top rate on the corporate income tax. That would cost $130 million in 2012 and $200 million per year subsequently.

The Senate and House have proposed adopting “bonus depreciation” rules. These new breaks for business would cost the treasury between $27 million and $83 million in 2011 and $99 million and $141 million in 2012.

While Republicans are selling House File 525 as a way to control government spending, the bill appears to be designed to undermine organized labor. It would shred binding arbitration and create new incentives for state employees not to join a union. In a statement yesterday, Iowa House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, “Like Wisconsin, Republicans in Iowa will stop at nothing to take away rights from police officers, fire fighters, state troopers, teachers, correctional officers and other hard-working Iowans. This bill to end collective bargaining is worse than the bill approved in Wisconsin earlier today.” After the jump I’ve posted excerpts from a House Democratic Research staff analysis on the bill.

Senate Democratic leaders have made clear that House File 525 is going nowhere in the upper chamber this year. If Republicans gain a majority in the Iowa Senate in 2012, they will certainly revive this kind of legislation.

Members of Congress rarely comment on news from the Iowa legislature, but both Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Bruce Braley (IA-01) released statements on yesterday’s Iowa House vote. I’ve posted those after the jump.

MARCH 14 UPDATE: Iowa Senate Labor Committee Chair Wally Horn confirmed that this bill won’t make it out of committee in the upper chamber and is therefore dead for the 2011 legislative session.

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Iowa and Wisconsin collective bargaining discussion thread

The Iowa House settled in Wednesday for a long floor debate on the labor bill formerly known as House Study Bill 117, now House File 525 (full text). This bill would sharply restrict collective bargaining rights and end binding arbitration for public employee unions. When the Iowa House Labor Committee considered this bill, Democrats kept lawmakers in session all night, offering dozens of amendments. House Democrats have proposed at least 100 amendments for consideration on the floor, and many legislators are speaking about each one. About six hours into the debate, fewer than ten amendments have been considered. It’s not clear whether the chamber will adjourn later tonight, but even if House members pull another all-nighter, this debate could take days. With a 60-40 majority, Republicans have the votes to pass House File 525 eventually, but it could be an exhausting experience. Senate Democratic leaders have vowed to block the bill in the upper chamber.

Meanwhile, Governor Terry Branstad traveled the state today pushing his message about how Iowa can’t afford to give public employees raises during the next two fiscal years. Statehouse Democrats say that Iowa can afford the new union contracts negotiated by former Governor Chet Culver, if Republicans give up their planned corporate and higher-income tax cuts.

Labor issues were contentious even when Democrats had the trifecta in Iowa. Culver’s 2008 veto of a bill that would have expanded collective bargaining rights caused a lasting rift between him and the state’s labor movement. The following year, six House Democrats stood with Republicans to block a prevailing wage bill, undermining the credibility of the majority leaders. Another Democrat’s opposition to “fair share” legislation prompted an unsuccessful primary challenge in 2010. Now that the political battle in Iowa has shifted to defending rather than expanding labor rights, the Democratic House caucus is more united.

Today’s unusual circumstances in the Iowa House  are nothing compared to the circus unfolding in Wisconsin. Senate Democrats left the state three weeks ago to deny Republicans the quorum they needed to pass an even more restrictive collective bargaining bill. Republicans moved to end the standoff today by supposedly removing the fiscal portions of the labor bill, making it no longer subject to the Wisconsin Senate quorum rules. The chamber then convened and passed the bill in about five minutes with no debate or amendments and only one dissenting vote. However, Democrats claim not all parts of the bill affecting the budget were removed before today’s power play; this pdf file is the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s analysis of the revised bill. There will surely be a legal challenge to passing the bill without a quorum, and some union representatives in Wisconsin are even talking about organizing a general strike.

Any comments about political battles over labor issues are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: The Iowa House adjourned Wednesday night after eight hours of debate on House File 525. The discussion resumes on Thursday; here’s a link to live video.

Senator Tom Harkin issued this statement on the Wisconsin events:

“I am appalled by the actions of the Republicans in Wisconsin.  They trampled over the democratic process, ramming through legislation taking away a fundamental right of Wisconsin’s public servants – the right to organize.  The law has nothing to do with budgets.  It is blatant political scapegoating, and it is shameful.  Our elected leaders at every level of government should be focused on helping working families succeed, not tearing them down.”

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House Democrats may not have the votes for "fair share"

John Deeth attended the League of Women Voters’ forum in Coralville on Saturday, and he buried an interesting nugget toward the end of his liveblog:

Chris Bonfig asks about HF 2420; Mascher, Dvorsky, Schmitz, Lensing, Bolkcom yes; Jacoby, Marek no. Jacby: “The first part of the bill is marvelous, the [second] part needs some work.”

House file 2420, formerly known as House Study Bill 702, is the reworked “fair share” legislation. The idea behind “fair share” is that employees who don’t belong to a union would have to reimburse the union for services provided, such as collective bargaining and handling grievances. A “fair share” bill passed the Iowa Senate in 2007 but stalled in the Iowa House, where the Democratic majority was 53-47 at the time. The current Democratic majority is 56-44, but none of organized labor’s legislative priorities passed during the 2009 legislative session because of opposition from a “six-pack” of House Democrats.

This year’s “fair share” proposal has been scaled back and would apply only to state employees. (Many labor advocates agree with Iowa AFL-CIO president emeritus Mark Smith, who has argued that the measure should apply to all private sector and public sector unions.) Iowa Republicans and business groups are fiercely opposing “fair share,” even though it would not apply to private businesses.

State Representative Dave Jacoby represents a relatively safe district in Johnson County. If he just announced at a public forum that he’s not backing HF 2420, I don’t see much chance of the “six-pack” members supporting the bill. That would leave House Democrats short of the 51 votes needed for passage.

When Jacoby praised the first part of the bill but not the second part, he appeared to be supporting reimbursement for grievance services but not for bargaining services, which are more costly for the union to provide. Click here for the full text of HF 2420. It states that “reasonable reimbursement” for bargaining services “shall not exceed sixty-five percent of the regular membership dues that the nonmember would have to pay if the nonmember were a member” of the union. The bill caps reimbursement for grievance services at ten percent of the union’s regular membership dues.

In February, Iowa House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested that a new “prevailing wage” bill is more likely to pass this session than “fair share.” In 2009 the “six-pack” sank a prevailing wage bill, but this year House Labor Committee Chairman Rick Olson prepared a compromise version that would require payment of prevailing wage on a smaller number of projects. Olson told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that the “softer” version of the prevailing wage bill addresses the objections raised last year by conservative House Democrats.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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