# Labor



Exclusive: Labor relations board shifts staff, cases to other agency. Is it legal?

Iowa’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) is transferring most of its staff and caseload to the state Department of Inspections and Appeals.

Since the mid-1970s, PERB members and administrative law judges have adjudicated labor disputes within state and local government or school districts. Following the changes, administrative law judges now working for PERB will handle other matters, while other employees at Inspections and Appeals will hear cases that were previously in PERB’s jurisdiction.

State officials have not announced the changes, which are scheduled to take effect on September 30. It’s not clear who initiated or authorized the plan. Staff in the governor’s office and Department of Inspections and Appeals did not respond to any of Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries over the past three weeks. PERB members Erik Helland and Cheryl Arnold likewise did not reply to several emails.

State Senator Nate Boulton, a Democrat with extensive experience as a labor attorney, has asked Attorney General Tom Miller for an official opinion on whether “it is an illegal shift of an essential PERB duty” to assign its responsibilities “to an unrelated state agency.”

Boulton also asked Miller to weigh in on the legality of Governor Kim Reynolds’ recent appointments to PERB. As Bleeding Heartland previously reported, Reynolds has circumvented the Senate confirmation process by keeping one of the three PERB positions unfilled, so she can name her preferred candidates to a vacant slot while the legislature is not in session.

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Much to celebrate this Labor Day, but more work to do

Chris Schwartz is state director for Americans for Democratic Action and a Black Hawk County supervisor.

As we celebrate workers this Labor Day, it’s important to acknowledge it’s been a rough couple of years for American workers. Working families were battered by a pandemic that caused massive unemployment, loss of health coverage and financial hardship for tens of millions of working people.

But thanks to swift bipartisan action in 2020, Congress passed historic relief packages that helped workers, extended health coverage and protected the majority of Americans from COVID-19’s worst harms.

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Support staffs have earned our respect

Bruce Lear: Support staff personnel are often ignored or treated as disposable instead of essential. But they are the glue holding schools together.

After a long career as a carpenter, my dad took a job as the night custodian for the small school I graduated from. He worked 3:00 to 11:00. The people in the building loved him because he’d go out of his way to help. He loved the work, and he was good at it. 

One time I was on a break from college and my dad had the flu and couldn’t go to work. It was rare, but he called the school and then went to bed.

A few minutes after 3:00, I answered the phone. It was the school superintendent. 

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Rally in support of Ingredion workers on strike

Dave Leshtz is a member of AFT Local 716 and editor of The Prairie Progressive.

As a crowd gathered for a rally by Lucita’s Diner in Cedar Rapids on a hot September 1, two people in Union Yes! t-shirts shaded their eyes while looking up at the top of the Ingredion plant across the street.

“See that dust coming off the roof?” said one. “Yeah,” said the other, “that’s what happens when you have people inside who don’t know what they’re doing.”

The “people inside” are management personnel replacing the 120 workers on strike at one of the oldest and biggest factories in this city of 140,000 on the banks of the Cedar River. 

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Governor still playing musical chairs with employment board

For a second straight year, Governor Kim Reynolds has reappointed Erik Helland to Iowa’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) after Helland failed to win Iowa Senate confirmation. In an apparent effort to circumvent the legally required confirmation process, Reynolds appointed Helland to a different position on the three-member board, which adjudicates labor disputes within state and local government or school districts.

She used the same maneuver last summer to name Helland as PERB chair after the Iowa Senate did not confirm him during the 2021 legislative session.

The governor has not filled the now-vacant position of PERB chair, saying in a recent letter to the top Iowa Senate staffer that her administration “has initiated, but has not yet completed, the selection process.” That leaves the board with no quorum; Reynolds has kept one position unfilled since August 2020.

The long-running vacancy allows the governor’s preferred nominees to remain on the board, even if they don’t receive a two-thirds confirmation vote in the state Senate. Asked for comment on Helland’s reappointment, the Democratic senators who reviewed the PERB nominees accused the governor of “a partisan power grab” and “rigging the appointment process so she can get her way.”

Reynolds’ spokesperson Alex Murphy did not respond to eight inquiries about the PERB appointments between late May and July 28.

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Workers create wealth. It's time they get a proper share

Jeff Shudak is the president of the Western Iowa Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. He is also an active member in his union hall and an Executive Board member of the Iowa Federation of Labor.

Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration.”

It’s a sentiment that many politicians and policy-makers seem to have forgotten these days, especially those who rig the rules for corporate greed. But Lincoln’s words are no less true. Workers create wealth—period. And Iowa workers deserve more than the small share they’ve been getting.

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