DES MOINES — House Democrats vowed to stay all Thursday night, through today and into the weekend to stop a Republican bill that takes aim at the state’s collective bargaining laws from moving to the House floor.

To do so, the five Democratic members prepared 51 amendments they would attempt to attach to the legislation, only to have them voted down by the nine, and later 10, Republicans on the committee. Still, the process stretched the committee into the night with each Democrat taking a turn to speak on each amendment as it came up.

By 9 p.m., after four hours of debate and two hours of private caucuses, the committee still was hearing amendments.

“It’s their right,” said Rep. Ron Jorgensen,

R-Sioux City, who was responsible for guiding the bill through the committee process.

But Republicans had made changes to the bill even before the committee process began.

Gone was a provision that allowed employees to become “free agents” and negotiate the terms of their employment individually with the management even if all other employees were members of a labor unit.

Also missing was a clause that made arbitration rulings subject to approval by the Legislature and governor. Republicans also struck a provision maximized employer contributions to health insurance plans at 70 percent.

“Absolutely we could have passed this one with no changes,” said Rep. Lance Horbach, R-Tama, chairman of the House Labor committee. “But we said all along that we wanted to go for something that was workable. We could have gone for a political headline, but we didn’t.”

Still, the provisions that were kept in could radically change wages and benefits for unionized state, county, municipal, school and other public employees.

To whit, the legislation allows the salaries and benefits of private sector employees to be considered when determining compensation for union members, as opposed to the practice now where only the salaries and benefits of other labor unions are considered.

It also takes health insurance out of the mix as a mandatory bargaining point during negotiations and allows arbitrators to find a middle ground between labor and management “best last offer” instead of having to pick one or the other.

The marathon committee meeting came at the end of a legislative week that saw busloads of union members and their supporters rally at the Statehouse in a show of solidarity against the legislation. Similar demonstrations have taken place in other cities across the nation — most notably Madison, Wis. – where labor interests are facing off against Republican lawmakers that are looking to reform collective bargaining laws in the name of fiscal responsibility.

Unlike Wisconsin where Republicans hold the governor’s office and majorities in both chambers, the Iowa Senate has a Democratic majority.

“The Senate will not take it up,” Horbach said, adding that there’s still a reason to move the labor bill, because the Senate needs the House to agree with it on spending going forward.

“They need between $200 million and $400 million in to make their budget work,” he said “That bill might be what they give us if we give them money.”