Collective bargaining bill hearing draws protest


Protesters gather at the Iowa State Capitol Feb. 13 to oppose legislation restricting collective bargaining rights for union workers.

Jessica Enwesi

Hundreds of Iowa union workers rallied at the state Capitol on Monday to express concerns over a collective bargaining bill that they fear strips union rights from Iowa’s 184,000 public sector employees.

GOP lawmakers held the hearing to address the fears that many union members felt threatened their livelihood, but they were met with an onslaught of opposition.    

Senate File 213, which was introduced earlier last week and is scheduled to move through the Republican-controlled Senate, would ultimately separate the protected rights of public safety workers from everyone else. In the Iowa House, the same bill, under the name House File 291, is also making its way through lawmakers.

Regular public sector employees, such as teachers, City Council members, prison guards and others, would no longer be able to negotiate contractual bargaining items such as vacation time, health insurance or overtime pay.

The bill would also require arbitration meetings between employers and public employees if employment contract agreements were not made and could cap any suggested wage increase at 3 percent. One of the only rights that public workers could retain would concern base pay negotiations. 

The far-reaching bill also prohibits public employees from using automatic payroll deductions to donate to unions and states. In order for a union to be re-certified, it would need to secure a favorable majority vote every two to three years. 

Opponents of the bill see these changes as an intentional way to “union bust,” or to rescind power from public sector unions. 

“(This bill) goes further. It’s ‘profession-busting’” Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association, said to the hearing panel. “(Iowa legislators) have carved out the heart of what is important and vital to our profession and our ability to have a voice in the direction of our work environment.”

Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, also expressed concerns to The Des Moines Register over the bill’s inability to afford legislative support or power to public sector employees and said the added amendments are “rigging the outcome of the process.” 

But Republican lawmakers believe the bill has garnered more than enough support from local school districts and governments that may benefit from the cost-saving efforts. 

“I have received a tremendous amount of positive feedback behind the scenes,” said Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, who introduced the bill. “What I hear from them is that while they support this, they are afraid to come forward. They are afraid of the toxic environment, the retribution in the workplace.”

Anne Sullivan, human resources chief of Des Moines Public Schools, also believes the bill will “allow (Des Moines Public Schools) maybe a little more creativity, in terms of compensation and different things to attract new teachers.”

More than 1,000 people attended the hearing Monday, including firefighters and other public safety employees who were excluded from the bill, to protest its limit on collective bargaining rights. Gov.Terry Branstad is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming week.