AFSCME members approve deal to avoid layoffs

Iowa Council 61 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees announced today that its members approved a deal union leaders negotiated earlier this month to avoid about 500 layoffs. The vote was 59 percent in favor and 41 percent against.

The deal requires about 20,000 state workers to take five furlough days between now and June 30, 2010, and give up some $75 a month in state contributions to a supplemental retirement plan.

I was surprised to see that only about 66 percent of approximately 9,000 AFSCME members cast a ballot in this election. (Because Iowa is a right-to-work state, many workers who are covered by AFSCME's contract are not members of the union.) Maybe the polling places weren't convenient for a lot of people.

UPDATE: Charlie Wishman of AFSCME wrote me to say:

66% is an extremely high number, in fact the highest for a contract vote of any kind from our records.  We're very proud of the membership turnout.  In fact, I believe it is higher than turnout for most general elections.  The membership absolutely cared a lot about this decision, and passions were high on both sides of the issue.  Council 61 had no position on the outcome of the vote other than we wanted everyone affected to have the opportunity to vote.

It is false to assume also that we didn't make the polling sites as accessible as possible.  You can view them here at the bottom of the page.  We were sure that no one would have had to travel over 48 miles to a voting site.  No one would have to travel over one hour, and all major sites were represented.

Governor Chet Culver sought negotiations with three unions last month when he rejected the preliminary spending reduction plans offered by the directors of the Department of Corrections and the Department of Public Safety.

The Iowa United Professionals union opted not to accept concessions in order to avoid 55 layoffs among its members.

The State Police Officers Council was to vote on a deal similar to what AFSCME negotiated, but I haven't seen any results from that vote. If members vote for that agreement, 40 state trooper and gaming enforcement positions would be preserved. In exchange, about 640 union members would take five furlough days and give up some state contributions to a retirement plan.

UPDATE: Sounds like the State Police Officers Council also approved the deal. Culver will hold a press conference today at 2 pm to discuss the votes.

SECOND UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal's statement is after the jump.

THIRD UPDATE: Kathie Obradovich observes, "Other governors have tried and failed to get concessions from the unions."

The Iowa Democratic Party points out that Culver succeeded where Terry Branstad failed. The full statement is after the jump.

Governor Culver Succeeds where Branstad Failed with State Workers

November 30th, 2009 by Ali Glisson

DES MOINES, IA - The decision by AFSCME Council 61 members to approve a deal to avoid layoffs of state workers is a historic victory for Gov. Chet Culver, and one that points up one of Terry Branstad's dramatic leadership failures.

Gov. Culver successfully negotiated a deal with about 20,000 state workers that would substitute five furlough days this fiscal year for layoffs of hundreds of workers.  The agreement, and its approval by AFSCME membership, is remarkable in Iowa political history.

"Gov. Culver went to the table in good faith, and state workers have rewarded that effort to deal with budget issues that were caused by the global recession without laying off state workers," Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Mike Kiernan said Monday. "It's a sign of strong leadership, and Iowa is fortunate to be resolving budget issues in this way, rather than the cumbersome and divisive process we have seen used in other states and even our own in the past."

Kiernan congratulated Culver and Council 61 President Dan Homan on their hard work over several weeks in reaching the agreement.

The Culver-AFSCME agreement stands in stark contrast to AFSCME Council 61, et. al., v. Branstad, a lawsuit that went all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court in 1991.  During the recession of 1991-92, Terry Branstad decided the state didn't have the money in its budget to pay state workers the wages for which they had already contracted.

The workers had to sue the sitting Governor, Branstad, just to fulfill the wage contract they had bargained for with the state.  They won and Branstad lost.  Branstad then decided to call a special session of the legislature in the summer of 1992.  There he succeeded in raising the sales tax, just to get the state's budget back into balance after his failed scheme to short state workers their salaries.

"Both Culver and Branstad were called upon to address a contract with state workers in tough budget times," Kiernan said Monday. "And the contrast couldn't be clearer - fairness and compassion on one hand, and a bitter, lingering court fight on the other."

Statement from Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal

Regarding votes by AFSCME and SPOC members      

"Today's announcement by AFSCME Council 61 is bittersweet.

"AFSCME and SPOC members deserve the thanks of their fellow Iowans for voluntarily sacrificing a portion of their wages to help balance the state budget.  These hard-working public employees have proven again that not only are they part of the backbone of our state's economy; they are also important members of Iowa 's neighborhoods and communities.

"The deepening national recession wasn't caused by hard-working Iowans, but they are paying the price for the greed of Wall Street executives and multinational corporations. It is unfortunate that AFSCME and SPOC members and other middle-class Iowans must now sacrifice their hard-fought earnings to clean up budget problems caused by a national and international economy that valued unchecked wealth over hard work, self-interest over sacrifice and self-indulgence over responsibility.

"Many in our communities have lost their jobs. Families are struggling to make ends meet. Everybody is cutting back - and that goes for state government, too.

"For all those reasons, we must redouble our efforts to balance next year's state budget responsibly and build a new foundation for prosperity in every Iowa community.  That means:

·        Helping create good-paying jobs that will strengthen and expand Iowa's middle class.

·        Protecting services and educational opportunities for unemployed workers, as well as services for children and the most vulnerable Iowans.

·        Continuing to listen to our constituents to ensure that the best ideas are used to improve government services and balance the budget responsibly in these tough economic times."

  • As a former AFSCME-covered

    employee in Iowa, I have to say the union does an abysmal job of communicating to new employees, their potential members.  Of course, after the AFSCME antics before the caucus against Obama, I would have resigned anyway.

  • This is a zero-sum game

    As a result of this vote, hundreds of state employees who are not covered under contract will be laid off to make up for the AFSCME and SPOC workers keeping their jobs. Those non-contract workers who survive the layoffs have to take seven furlough days by June 30, not five like the contracted employees.

    • I think you have the wrong information

      The point of this deal is that by taking unpaid days and giving up deferred compensation, AFSCME workers have saved the state more than $26 million, averting the need for hundreds of layoffs.

      You are correct that non-contract workers have to take seven furlough days, though.

      • A month ago there was an announcement

        from Governor Culver where he ordered a 7-day furlough for the 3,258 non-contract employees in the executive branch, in lieu of layoffs. After the announcement of the proposed union arrangement on the 9th, word came down from his office to department heads that if the union vote passed, there would be layoffs within the non-contract group in addition to the furloughs.

        The union members voted to grab seats on the lifeboats for themselves and left the non-contract folks to hum a few bars of "Nearer my God to Thee" while they wait for the pink slip lottery. Yeah, I'm mixing metaphors but the point remains: there will be layoffs, just not from a group that has any political power. And if I'm wrong, I'll be very happy because that means there won't be unemployment checks winging their way to my family.

        As a journalist, call a department head's office and ask about non-contract employee layoffs. Then watch the news over the next week.  

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