Iowa reps pass bill limiting collective bargaining
Friday, March 11, 2011; 5:33 PM
DES MOINES, Iowa -- The Iowa House approved a bill Friday limiting public workers' collective bargaining rights and requiring them to pay more for their health insurance.
But while similar legislation reducing the power of unions has passed in states like Ohio and Wisconsin, it is unlikely to become law in Iowa. Democrats who control the Senate there have said they won't allow debate on the bill backed by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.
Republicans who control the House insisted the measure was needed to help address a state budget shortfall estimated at between $500 million and $700 million.
"The state can no longer afford, and the taxpayers can no longer support, health care insurance which does not require the employee to at least contribute something to their own health care coverage," Rep. Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City, said in a statement after the vote.
But Democrats say the bill is a political attack on the public employee unions that traditionally support their party.
"Like Wisconsin, Republicans in Iowa will stop at nothing to take away rights from police officers, firefighters, state troopers, teachers, correction officers and other hard-working Iowans," said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines.
Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill Friday eliminating most collective bargaining rights for public employees in that state. The measure passed the state's Assembly on Thursday following more than three weeks of protests that drew tens of thousands of people to the Capitol in opposition. The Senate cleared the way for passage with a surprise move Wednesday that allowed them to move the measure forward without 14 Democratic senators present. Republicans control both chambers of that state's legislature.
The Iowa bill would force state workers to pay at least $100 a month toward the cost of their health care and would not allow them to negotiate or vote on layoff procedures. The means that managers could decide who would be let go instead of layoffs being done according to seniority, which is typical.
Critics have said that would likely lead to senior workers being cut since they usually make the most money.
The bill also would give arbitrators new options when state and union negotiators can't agree. Currently, state law requires an arbitrator to choose between the final offer from the state and the final offer from the union. The bill would allow an arbitrator to craft a compromise from those two offers and consider private-sector agreements when making a decision. For example, if the state proposed having workers pay $100 a month toward their health insurance costs and a union proposed a $50 contribution, the arbitrator could consider what workers at private companies typically pay.
McCarthy said the measure would effectively end collective bargaining.
Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said that won't happen because he doesn't expect the bill to even make it to a vote in the Senate.
"Democrats have a lot of concerns about the collective bargaining bill," Dotzler said. "There's nothing in that bill that will even make it out of subcommittee in the Senate."
But Rep. Lance Horbach, R-Tama, who heads the House Labor Committee and was a strong supporter of the bill, said something must be done to reduce the state's labor costs.
"If we don't do something, the cost of government to keep going and rising and rising," Horbach said. "We're trying to find stability for both sides."
As in other states, pro-union demonstrators have flocked to the Statehouse for noisy protests all week. Representatives debated the issue all day Wednesday and Thursday and still had dozens of amendments proposed by Democrats before them Friday, when Republicans voted to cut off discussion and force a vote. The bill passed 58 to 38 in a vote along party lines. Four representatives did not vote.
Union members watching from the gallery joined Democrats in chanting "shame on you" after the vote was taken.
"It was disheartening to know there's so little respect that's shown to working people," said Mary Jane Cobb, executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.