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.”