One of Iowa City’s legislative priorities this year is "Protection of public sector employee collective bargaining rights." Our City Council and staff knew the Republican majorities in the House and Senate would make some changes to the basic law governing collective bargaining (Chapter 20), but we (or at least I) did not anticipate how extensively and quickly they would eviscerate it. 

Last Tuesday, Republican legislators introduced HSB 291 and SF 213. Both bills would strip workers of all mandatory subjects of bargaining, except for wages. But even bargaining over wages would be tightly constrained: wage increases awarded by arbitration would be restricted to the cost of living, or 3%, whichever is less.

If the bills pass as expected, public workers will lose grievance procedures, seniority rights, and the right to bargain over healthcare, pension, sick pay, vacation pay, and working conditions. Public labor unions will be required to re-certify their bargaining units at the expiration of every contract, even though many entities only bargain one-year agreements. Moreover, a majority of all members of the bargaining unit would have to vote yes before the unit could become re-certified.

The clear purpose of these bills is to eliminate public sector unions.

This is not just a dreadful idea, which will cause adverse effects to ripple throughout the labor economy, but HSB 291 and SF 213 are being fast-tracked without giving affected individuals and organizations any meaningful opportunity to influence the content of the legislation. Moreover, another bill (HSB 92) would preempt the ability of cities and counties to improve wages and working conditions in their areas.

Iowans should be profoundly dismayed that their state legislators would take such damaging action so precipitously. Put simply, this violates basic principles of democratic governance.

To be clear: Iowa City’s City Council does not object to thoughtful amendment of Chapter 20.

But thoughtful amending is not what the House and Senate are doing. Consequently, we strongly believe the proposed bills should be rejected. They are harmful to our employees, to all workers in the state, and to the public at large.

Hundreds of dedicated men and women work hard for the people of our city, and we fully support them: our street maintenance crews, our garbage collectors, our landfill operators, our parks and recreation staff, our rental housing inspectors, and all of the other workers who have enabled Iowa City to thrive. Our public safety staff are not significantly affected by the bills currently being considered, but “divide and conquer” appears to be the strategy at play this year. There is no reason to expect that our police officers and firefighters won’t be affected in the future. 

We also fully support the teachers, nurses, paramedics, record keepers, graduate assistants at the U of Iowa, and other public sector employees who make sure our children are well educated, our ailing loved ones are cared for, our elections are properly conducted, our vital property records are well managed, and our city and county can exercise the right of self-governance.   

Issued: Feb. 13, 2017 

Date of publication

Monday, February 13, 2017