Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate voted today to dramatically reduce collective bargaining rights for some 180,000 public employees, following approximately 27 hours of debate in the Iowa Senate and fourteen and a half hours of debate in the Iowa House. GOP leaders moved House File 291 and Senate File 213 simultaneously through both chambers in order to speed up the process.
Democrats had offered dozens of amendments to the bills, which were published for the first time on February 7. Instead of allowing full discussion of every amendment, GOP leaders moved to cut off debate at a "time certain" today. That maneuver had never been used in the Iowa Senate and has been invoked only rarely in the Iowa House--including to end debate on the collective bargaining bill Republicans passed in March 2011. Debate ended in the Iowa House at noon, after which the majority quickly voted down all the remaining amendments with no discussion. Six Republicans joined all 41 Democrats to vote against the bill on final passage. Two of them, Tom Moore and Dave Heaton, are former teachers. Clel Baudler is a retired state trooper. Andy McKean and Shannon Lundgren were just elected from eastern Iowa swing districts, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. McKean is also very familiar with Chapter 20 as a former county supervisor and longtime state lawmaker. I don't know why Mary Ann Hanusa opposed the bill. UPDATE: Hanusa did not respond to my request for comment, but I learned from another source that she is also a former teacher who works in education administration.
Senators debated all night long Wednesday into Thursday morning, with Republicans voting down every Democratic amendment. Independent State Senator David Johnson voted with Democrats on all the amendments and joined them in giving several passionate speeches. Few Republicans in either chamber chose to speak in favor of the bills, aside from Senate Labor Committee Chair Jason Schultz, House Labor Committee Chair Dave Deyoe, and State Representative Steven Holt, who floor-managed the bill and distinguished himself as the legislature's least convincing liar. The Des Moines Register's William Petroski summarized some of the important Democratic amendments. I didn't stay up to watch the whole debate, so would welcome examples of some of the most absurd Republican comments, like State Senator Mark Chelgren accusing Democrats of "stalling" while his party had shown an "incredible amount of patience." Nothing says "patient" like making sweeping changes to a 43-year-old law, affecting 180,000 Iowans, after only nine days in the legislature.
Senate leaders ended debate at 2 pm Thursday, after which Republicans voted down the remaining Democratic amendments, then substituted the text of the House bill for the Senate bill, to get the legislation to Governor Terry Branstad more quickly. Branstad's chief of staff, Michael Bousselot, spent the final hours of debate in the Senate chamber. House File 291 eventually passed on a 29-21 Senate vote.
Iowa's largest public-sector union, AFSCME Iowa Council 61, plans to file a lawsuit claiming the new law is unconstitutional, presumably because of the way it grants more bargaining rights to "public safety" workers than to others, many of whom do dangerous jobs. Video from a February 16 press conference by labor leaders is available here.
I enclose below statements about the bill by legislative leaders from both parties, as well as documents prepared by Iowa House Democratic and Republican staff, which discuss in more detail how House File 291 will affect collective bargaining rights for different types of public employees. Regarding substantive impacts, I also recommend the recent guest posts here by state employee Ruth Thompson, University of Northern Iowa Professor Chris Martin, and attorney James Larew, who predicted that today's action "will be remembered as the most destructive blow to our ability to govern ourselves fairly and efficiently in nearly half a century."
GOP spin notwithstanding, collective bargaining "reform" in Iowa was designed primarily with political goals in mind, like similar measures in other states. Republicans know that crippling public sector unions will make it harder for Democrats to win elections.
Although Republicans repeatedly claimed during the House and Senate debates that their bill would help local governments, Chapter 20 has worked so well that more than 140 school districts rushed to sign new contracts with the teachers union before the legislature acted. Boards of supervisors in several large counties passed resolutions condemning the proposal. Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson's case against the bill is convincing.
Iowa Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg's statement following passage of House File 291:
Republican legislators refused to listen to hard-working Iowans
DES MOINES – Senate Democratic Leader Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids said anti-worker legislation fast-tracked through the Senate and House will hurt hard-working Iowans, their families and their communities.
“This new anti-worker law takes away the health care security and lowers the standard of living for hundreds of thousands of working families,” Hogg said. “This legislation is wildly unpopular because it hurts Iowa families.”
Hogg pointed out that an overwhelming majority of Iowans who packed the Capitol, attended rallies and overflowing local meetings, and filled legislative voicemail and email inboxes were in opposition to Senate File 213/House File 291.
“Their message was clear: This bill hurts working Iowans and their families,” he said.
Hogg said he is proud Democratic Senators listened to Iowans, especially those who will be hurt the most: nurses, police officers, firefighters, snowplow drivers, teachers, correctional officers and other public workers.
“All of us, including law enforcement officers, firefighters, teachers, nurses and other Iowa workers, deserve fairness and a voice in our own workplaces,” he said.
He said the current law worked for 40 years because it simply required Iowans and their employer to sit down and work together. Iowa school boards, city councils, county boards of supervisors, and other Iowa governments have almost always been able to reach mutually agreeable solutions to workplace issues.
“Our current collective bargaining law works. Originally passed to stop strikes, the law has served Iowans, employees and public employers well for more than 40 years,” he said. “Under this bill, cities, counties and school districts are prohibited from negotiating and reaching agreement on health care coverage and other workplace issues.”
Iowa House Minority Leader Mark Smith's statement following passage of House File 291:
Republicans Reward Special Interests; Take Away Rights from Iowans
Republicans will stop at nothing to reward corporate special interests while ignoring the hard-working Iowans in their own districts. Thousands and thousands of Iowans have contacted us in person, by phone, and over email to voice their opposition to the Republican bill that takes away rights and will lower wages for working families. But Republicans have stopped listening.
The Republican bill was written behind closed doors in secret with support from dark money, corporate specials interest groups and then put on the fast track so Iowans had no say in the bill.
Republicans have given away over $500 million in corporate tax breaks and now expect working families to pay for it by taking their away rights and lowering their wages.
Our teachers, firefighters, nurses, snow plow drivers, correctional officers, and other workers deserve better. They deserve fairness and a voice in their own workplace.
House Democrats will never stop fighting for working families across Iowa.
Analysis of House File 291 by Iowa Democratic House staff. Note: this document was completed before Republicans released their list of amendments on February 14.
Key points from Republican amendment to collective bargaining bill, announced on February 14:
Analysis of House File 291 by Iowa Republican House staff.
"Collective Bargaining: Fact vs. Fiction," published on behalf of House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow on February 13. Issues not addressed in these talking points include the reality that Republicans did not repeal Chapter 20 in order to preserve the law's prohibition on public-sector strikes, and also that the provision requiring employers to "provide" health insurance says nothing about whether that insurance will be comprehensive or affordable.
Each legislative session is governed by a set of deadlines that help keep the session on pace and give necessary structure to our work. There are two funnels each session, the first of which is March 3. In order to meet these impending deadlines and respect the full legislative process, we have to work quickly on legislation we want to get accomplished this year.
One of the bills currently going through the process is House File 291, dealing with collective bargaining and public employee personnel reform. This bill has gone through many weeks of drafting and addresses several components of Chapter 20 (and other chapters) in the Iowa Code. This specific section of code hasn’t had a thoughtful review in over four decades, and during that time, the balance has gradually tipped away from the taxpayers who ultimately pay the bill. The goal of the legislation is to hold government unions more accountable to those they represent and to modernize and rebalance some aspects of the law to reflect today’s economic realities.
Public sector workers are invaluable to our state in many ways and have some of the toughest jobs around. Because we recognize the important work public employees do, the proposed changes to Chapter 20 were carefully weighed and subjected to the full legislative process.There has been a lot of false speculation and misinformation circulated about what the bill does and doesn’t do. Here are some facts related to common points of concern.
The Republican plan does not repeal the right to collectively bargain.
Chapter 20 will not be repealed. Public unions will still have the right to represent bargaining units and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with public employers. This bill does not affect private sector unions whatsoever.
The proposed changes will not subject employees to workplace discrimination, unsafe environments, or violations of their rights including due process for termination.
Current state and federal law provides protections against discrimination, harassment, retaliation or any other unlawful practices. It is already illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based on protected characteristics such as race, color, religion, age, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, creed, sexual orientation, sexual identity or disability. This bill does not undo those protections.
The current collective bargaining law does not provide a balanced playing field during negotiations for employers and employees.
The current law is tipped in favor of government unions. For example, arbitrators cannot even consider if the state has enough funds to pay for wage and benefit increases, but they can consider their ability to increase taxes in order to generate more funds to pay for these benefits. That is unfair to taxpayers and other key responsibilities of state government.
Health insurance will not be eliminated for public employees under this bill.
Page 46, line 3 of bill explicitly states the employer must offer health insurance. Similar to retirement systems like IPERS, it will be required to be offered but will not be handled through the bargaining process for most public employees.
The proposed changes will not alter or diminish the quality of any retirement systems.
Since its inception, Chapter 20 has prohibited the negotiation of state employee retirement systems. State pension systems have never been a subject of negotiation and the quality of the system has never been influenced or changed by the bargaining process. Pension systems have been protected from collective bargaining for 40 years and will remain protected.
Republicans are not aiming to disenfranchise unions.
The plan gives government workers more freedom and choice in their workplaces. If a union is unresponsive to their needs they are free to vote against certification of that union. If the union is providing value and needed services to those it represents, that union will thrive. If the goal was to “union-bust,” then the plan would entirely eliminate any collective bargaining rights for government employees, which is the case in several other states.
Exceptional employees will be able to be rewarded while it will be easier to get rid of those who consistently underperform.
The proposed bill will give local governments the ability to recruit and retain employees for hard-to-fill positions, and unencumber the process for terminating ineffective employees. Meanwhile, all the same protections for due process and wrongful termination will still exist. The proposal will help protect exceptional employees rather than shielding poor performing ones.
This bill will help bring our collective bargaining law into the 21st century with these pragmatic changes. Now is the time to rebalance the scales and make sure that Iowans have a fair and equitable system that works for public employers, employees, and taxpayers.
Statement about House File 291 by House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, published on February 10.
Rebalancing the Scales
We fulfilled our commitment last week of setting Supplemental State Aid within the first 30 days of session. This provides school districts with the certainty they need to begin planning their budgets for next school year. Thank you to the Senate and the Governor for their shared commitment in getting this done in a timely manner.
Last Monday, we passed a bill that provides Iowa’s schools with an additional $40 million next year. Governor Branstad signed the bill into law later in the week. As I said in my previous newsletter, K-12 education is Iowa’s top priority in the budget, accounting for 43% of all state spending. In addition to providing K-12 with additional resources, we’ll be looking for ways to provide more flexibility to schools and examining some of the funding inequities our schools face.
Last week, the House introduced House Study Bill 84, which updates Iowa’s law regarding collective bargaining for public employees. The law, originally passed in 1974, has remained relatively untouched for four decades. Over the last 40 years, largely due to arbitration requirements, the scales have been tipped to favor government unions and put management and taxpayers at a disadvantage. House Republicans believe the law deserves a thoughtful review to rebalance the scales and ensure that Iowans have a fair and equitable system that works for public employers, employees, and taxpayers.
We value our public employees and the work they do in their communities. I’ve heard from many people who have expressed concerns about provisions in the bill that don’t actually exist. I appreciate the opportunity to have a dialogue over this bill. Unfortunately, it seems that many Des Moines union executives are resorting to fear mongering in an attempt to scare workers over what this bill actually does.
First, let me tell you what the bill doesn’t do:
It doesn’t affect private sector unions.
It doesn’t repeal the right to collectively bargain for government employees.
It doesn’t affect pensions in any way.
It doesn’t take away health insurance. Under the bill, the employer is required to provide a health insurance plan to employees.
It doesn’t mandate that local governments must join a statewide health insurance pool.
There are many reasons that Iowans should support and be excited for this legislation.
One of the primary things the bill will do is provide flexibility to locally elected officials to make decisions that are best for their communities. Each item that is mandated to be discussed during negotiations acts as a finger on the scale, tipping the balance towards the unions. By allowing local governments and school boards to actually manage, citizens in those communities can expect better service and more opportunities for creativity and innovation.
The bill also ends the practice of deducting union dues from government employees’ paychecks. If a government union has won the right to collectively bargain, it is completely reasonable to expect them to collect their own dues instead of having their employer do it for them. It’s unfair to expect that the government and taxpayers should serve as the union’s bill collector.
Another provision that I’m really excited about is the opportunity for schools to reward their best and brightest teachers. Our bill will allow schools, and other local governments, to pay exceptional employees based on merit rather than just seniority. It can also help schools fill positions in critical subject areas like science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) with highly qualified people. This gives schools a great opportunity to recruit and retain the best teachers, especially in rural areas.
As the session continues to move along, please stay in touch. Legislation and budgets will soon start moving through their process, so please let me know your thoughts. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (515) 281-3521.
In a recent brief, prepared before Republicans released the text of the bill, the Iowa Policy Project summarized the likely impact of removing most meaningful collective bargaining as well as what has happened in Wisconsin following that state's similar action in 2011. From that February 3, 2017 report:
Why the current system works:
Protecting taxpayers, leveling the playing field, sustaining good jobs
The general assembly declares that it is the public policy of the state to promote harmonious and cooperative relationships between government and its employees by permitting public employees to organize and bargain collectively; to protect the citizens of the state by assuring effective and orderly operations of government in providing for their health, safety, and welfare; to prohibit and prevent all strikes by public employees; and to protect the rights of public employees to join or refuse to join, and to participate in or refuse to participate in, employee organizations.
— Public Employment Relations Act, Code of Iowa, Chapter 20.1.1
Iowa’s long-standing public sector collective bargaining law places a high value on traditions of cooperation, protection of citizens’ interest in the effective and orderly operations of government, and balancing prevention of public strikes with protection of employee rights. By any objective standard, Iowa’s uniquely designed public sector collective bargaining system appears to be achieving the goals of balance, fair play, and stability sought in the 1974 law, which was passed by a Republican majority legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Robert D. Ray.
The long list of predictable negative consequences of weakening this law begs the question: what problems do state leaders aim to remedy by proposing dramatic changes? Beyond vague complaints that some aspect of the system may be “outdated,” state leaders proposing sweeping changes have yet to specify what is to be gained by undermining or eliminating a carefully crafted law that has and continues to achieve its stated public policy goals.
Under the current law:
• Ninety-eight percent of public-sector contracts negotiated in Iowa each year are settled
voluntarily.22 This is what the law is designed to encourage.
• The remaining two percent are resolved by a neutral arbitrator, who is jointly selected by
the employer and employees.23 Under Iowa’s law, arbitrators listen to presentations by the two parties and are then required to choose the proposal that is most “reasonable” after considering four factors spelled out in the law: (1) comparability — how do employees’ wages, benefits and working conditions compare to other similar employees? (2) bargaining history — what has happened in prior negotiations? (3) the ability of the public employer to pay –can the public employer afford the cost of proposals? and (4) the public interest — what impact would the proposed change have on citizens in the community? As the law’s preamble states, these constraints are designed to protect and equally balance interests of Iowa employers, employees, and taxpayers.
• Not only do very few contracts require arbitration under this system, but even mediation is used less now than when Chapter 20 was passed. In 1975-76, 13.4 percent of contracts were resolved without a mediator and mediation helped to resolve another 63.9 percent. In 2015-16, by contrast — with 40 years of Chapter 20 experience behind all parties — mediators assisted in 32.2 percent of open contracts and 65.7 percent were resolved on their own.24
• No public sector strikes have occurred in Iowa since passage of the law.25
UPDATE: Speaking to Radio Iowa's O.Kay Henderson, Branstad described the bill as "monumental."
“Obviously, this is a difficult and contentious, but it’s something that I think is really needed, especially in the health care area,” Branstad said during an interview. “I’ve been trying for decades to get where the union employees to contribute a reasonable amount.”
Via the Des Moines Register's Brianne Pfannenstiel, former Iowa State Senator Joseph Brown, now a superintendent in south central Minnesota, "thanked" lawmakers for "dismantling Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code." Brown anticipates the law will make it easier to recruit good Iowa teachers to move to Minnesota.
Showing no class whatsoever, State Representative Bobby Kaufmann had this to say to a concerned constituent who contacted him on February 16 (redacted to remove her full name and e-mail address):
FEBRUARY 17 UPDATE: I have sought comment from the six House Republicans who voted against the bill. Lundgren was the first to respond:
After numerous conversations over email and on the phone with people in the district, I chose to vote no. Along with our local officials and superintendents, I support some aspects of the bill. However, my job is to represent the folks in the district and be their voice in Des Moines. They told me they didn’t support the bill so I voted the way they asked.
McKean told Henderson, "I think there needed to be some reforms to collective bargaining, but I just felt this bill went a little too far, too quickly for what I would consider to be good public policy."
Brianne Pfannenstiel and Grant Rodgers reported for the Des Moines Register on AFSCME's lawsuit:
Matthew Glasson, a former attorney and labor educator at the University of Iowa Labor Center, said that provision [exempting public safety workers] could help the union argue in its lawsuit that the legislation violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and a similar clause in the Iowa Constitution.
“You have to have a pretty good reason for distinguishing between two groups of people who are similarly situated,” he said. [...]
Homan said the union and three public workers who are AFSCME members would be parties to the lawsuit against the state of Iowa. He said he expects it to be filed Thursday night or Friday in Polk County District Court.
Unions in Wisconsin sued the state after the Legislature there enacted similar restrictions on union negotiations. But in 2014 it was upheld by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which found that collective bargaining is not a fundamental right for Wisconsin's public employees.
"The Wisconsin lawsuit and the Iowa lawsuit are going to be completely different, because the laws are different," said Homan. "The Supreme Court there is different, because the Supreme Court is an elected Supreme Court. They run as a partisan body. I believe we’ll get a much better shake with the Iowa Supreme Court than Wisconsin did, at least that’s my hope."
In this story for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Erin Murphy focused on a provision that hasn't gotten much attention: the new law's requirement that arbitrators consider wages for similar jobs in the private sector.
David Swenson, an economics professor at Iowa State University, said private-sector wages could provide reasonable benchmarks for some jobs such as truck drivers, cooks, custodians and skilled trades workers such as plumbers or electricians.
But most comparisons are not apt, Swenson said. For example, he said private schoolteachers do not have the same continuing education requirements or, on average, the same amount of educational training as public school teachers.
And in some cases, Swenson said, there is little to no comparison at all. For example, he noted there are few private-sector comparisons to social workers.
“The point is that a very broad range of public-service jobs, including a large fraction of those covered by collective bargaining agreements, do not have legitimate private-sector counterparts,” he said.
Murphy also cited this 2011 report by Andrew Cannon for the Iowa Policy Project.
Cannon's paper, "Apples to Apples: Private-Sector and Public-Sector Compensation in Iowa," examines wage and benefit research controlling for education, work experience, hours worked and other factors. He found, comparing compensation including wages/salary and benefits:
• Male public-sector workers earn nearly 8 percent less and female public-sector workers 11 percent less than private-sector workers;
• Male state-government workers earn 6 percent less than comparable workers in private industry, and women 8 percent less; and
• The penalty for local government workers: 9 percent for men, nearly 13 percent for women.
"You cannot avoid the fact, if making comparisons, that not all jobs are the same. But that's what politicians are doing when they ignore education requirements and other differences for various positions in the public sector and private sector," Cannon said. "When average earnings are compared by education level, private-sector workers generally are compensated better. This is true even when you include benefits, which generally are a greater share of compensation in public-sector jobs."
Over at Iowa Starting Line, Rick Smith listed some out-of-state donors who gave large sums to Priorities for Iowa, a conservative advocacy group that has been running television commercials supporting the collective bargaining changes. CORRECTION: These donors appear to have supported the Priorities for Iowa super-PAC, not the 501(c)4 that paid for the tv ads.
Democratic State Senator Liz Mathis read out the donor names and dollar amounts during the Iowa Senate debate. Smith commented,
The Priorities for Iowa TV ads promoted the destruction of the Iowa’s current collective bargaining law by claiming, “It would make it easier to keep good teachers and remove the occasional bad ones.” A portion of the ad said, “It’s time to return control to local school boards and parents so they can reward excellent educators.”
This legislation did the exact opposite by limiting what local governments could bargain with their employees about. The resulting lower wages and fewer benefits will drive Iowa’s best teachers out of the state, not keep them here.
Jimmy Centers, a former campaign staffer and communications director for Governor Branstad, leads Priorites for Iowa. That 501(c)4 organization is a "dark money" group which does not disclose its donors.
LATER UPDATE: Branstad signed the bill on February in a private setting. In a cowardly move, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds avoided this photo opportunity with Drew Klein, leader of the Iowa chapter of the Koch brothers group Americans for Prosperity.
The governor's press release did mention Reynolds, though. She won't be able to run away from this during the 2018 campaign.
“I’m very pleased to sign this bill into law,” said Gov. Branstad. “These necessary reforms to our antiquated 43 year old public employee collective bargaining law bring fairness for Iowa taxpayers and flexibility to public employees. This bill also gives local governments, schools and state government greater freedom in managing their resources with the opportunity to reward good public employees. I want to thank all of the legislators who worked diligently and thoroughly to pass these much needed reforms, including Speaker Linda Upmeyer, Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, Majority Leader Bill Dix, President Jack Whitver, Chairman Dave Deyoe, Representative Steve Holt and Chairman Jason Schultz.”
Lt. Gov. Reynolds also applauded the reforms adding, “I’m excited about the long overdue reforms that have been put in place today. My experience as county treasurer for 13 years gave me a firsthand look at how out of balance the system had become. Finally, Iowa taxpayers have a seat at the table and local governments are empowered to make decisions in the best interests of their communities and schools. These changes will improve our educational system by giving local districts the ability to recruit and retain the best teachers in every classroom across the state. This new, balanced system is something all Iowans can celebrate.”
Josh Hughes, the youngest current school board member in Iowa, wrote in a guest post for Iowa Starting Line that "Running For Iowa School Boards More Important Than Ever Now."
I’ve had the opportunity to witness much of the debate in both the Iowa House and Senate over the past few weeks. As a school board member from a rural district that routinely gives more than 60% of its votes to Republican candidates, I am incredulous that Republicans from rural areas fail to understand the massive wounds they have inflicted on their own communities. Rural communities like mine are driven by public education. And yet Republican members of the General Assembly have turned their backs on the very people that elected them, and that’s unforgivable. [...]
In 2015, when Governor Terry Branstad went back on campaign promises of supporting public education and vetoed over $50 million in education funding, I was apoplectic. I fumed, wrote letters to the editor, and went off on Twitter. But that didn’t change anything—until just two weeks after that I found out that there were school elections in odd numbered years, and that there would be a vacancy on my school board. I made the choice to run, beat four much older, much more established community members on a platform of a stronger commitment to public education and our teachers.
I ran as an 18-year-old, barely able to vote, with a High School diploma with the ink still wet. If I can do that, anyone can. If you really care about protecting bargaining rights for our teachers, run for school board, and get in the room to make sure teachers get a fair shake. Concerned that the Secretary of Education doesn’t seem to know the difference between proficiency and growth? Get on your school board and ensure you’re helping every student you can.
FEBRUARY 19 UPDATE: Kathie Obradovich observed in her latest Des Moines Register column,
Republicans running the bill in the House and Senate seemed at best unable and at worst unwilling to discuss what effect these changes will have on the more than 180,000 public employees around the state. I saw lawmakers who supposedly helped write the bill unable to answer simple questions about the wording. I also saw Republicans who were supposed to be helping their fellow lawmakers understand the language snapping at them to read the bill themselves.
State legislators pushing this legislation spoke of opportunities for local governments to “innovate” in managing taxpayers’ dollars and the services they expect. In the hours of debate I heard, Republicans never offered a single example of what that innovation might entail.
In the two-hour public hearing at the Capitol last week, no local government officials testified, let alone offered any suggestions on what they might do with this newfound flexibility. The rush of local school boards and other local governments to ratify or extend contracts with their public workers suggests many are neither ready nor receptive toward this massive upset in the relationship between management and workers.
Top image: State Senator Joe Bolkcom's photo of the unprecedented Iowa Senate vote on setting a "time certain" for ending debate on Senate File 213 on February 16.