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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