Organized labor still angry at Culver

Jason Hancock has a story up at Iowa Independent about labor unions working hard to increase the Democratic majorities in the Iowa legislature.

It’s clear that members of the labor community are still furious that Governor Chet Culver vetoed a collective-bargaining bill passed toward the end of this year’s session:

Ken Sager, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, said the 2008 legislative session ended on a sour note, but he hopes that be used as motivation in the future.

“A lot of our members are very disappointed and angry that we were finally able to get a [collective bargaining] bill through the legislature and we couldn’t get the governor’s signature,” he said. “We were very surprised, and we’ve heard from a number of legislative leaders who were just as stunned as we were. Now, we’re trying to focus that anger in a productive way to help build the labor movement for the future.”

In the federation’s most recent newsletter, the veto was put in much starker terms.

“The 2008 Legislative Session will go down in Iowa labor history as the session when a Democratic governor turned his back on the unions that enthusiastically supported him and helped get him elected,” the newsletter said. “When Gov. Culver vetoed the public sector collective bargaining bill, not only public workers, but all of labor was stunned by what they felt was an out-and-out betrayal.”

Cityview weekly’s “Civic Skinny” column recently commented on the strained relationship:

It wasn’t on his schedule, but [Culver] showed up the other day at the dedication of the Iowa Workers Monument. Skinny wasn’t sure what that means – so she turned to the Senior Analyst for Civic Skinny, who had a ready explanation. “This was organized labor’s effort to recognize Iowa’s workers that started way back in 2004. With the collective bargaining veto, it would have added insult to injury to have skipped the event, but he didn’t put it on his public schedule or send out a press release to promote the dedication of the monument – which is located on state property,” the Senior Analyst analyzed. Then, morphing into a Senior Cynic, he added: “Maybe this was the advice he got from the same pollsters that advised him to veto the collective bargaining bill.” “Way back in 2004” is code for “during the Vilsack administration,” and several Vilsack people – including the former governor himself – are on the Monument committee, which might be another reason Culver didn’t play up the dedication.

I wish labor unions every success in helping elect more Democratic legislators who are strong on their issues.

If Culver had asked for my advice, I would have encouraged him to sign the collective-bargaining bill. I wasn’t persuaded by the arguments that corporate and Republican interest groups made against it.

That said, the Democrats in the legislature badly bungled the passage of the bill, in my opinion.

Let’s take a step back.

In 2007 the slim Democratic majority in the House was unable to hold together to pass the “fair share” bill that would have weakened Iowa’s right-to-work law. This was one of the hot-button issues from the earliest days of the session, and it was a blow to the leadership’s credibility not to get it through.

Statehouse leaders tried a different tactic with the collective-bargaining bill this year. Instead of making clear early in the session that it would be one of their priorities, they let it be added as a 14-page amendment to a different bill, after the first funnel deadline had passed.

In theory, bills need to be approved by a legislative committee before that funnel deadline in order to be voted on during the legislative session. There are exceptions (the leadership can introduce new bills after the funnel), but in general, major initiatives are not supposed to be introduced after the funnel date.

Then, Democrats tried to limit debate over the collective bargaining proposal, prompting Senate Republicans to take unusual steps to force debate on it.

As I said above, I support the substance of the bill. I understand why it would be advantageous for the leadership not to tip their hand early in the session about the collective bargaining bill. Doing so would have given opponents more time to mobilize against it and lean on the less reliable members of the Democratic caucus.

But look at this situation from Culver’s perspective. The Democrats in the legislature looked like they were afraid to debate the collective bargaining measure in broad daylight. That’s what is implied when you introduce a major policy initiative as a long amendment and limit debate before forcing it through on a party-line vote.

I have no idea whether Culver vetoed the bill over substantive disagreements or solely because of political considerations, but I understand his reluctance to get behind a controversial bill approved in this manner.

Let’s elect more good Democrats to the legislature. They should be able to pass a strong collective bargaining bill next year without giving the appearance of trying to slip it in under the radar.

Then Culver should sign it without hesitation.

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