DES MOINES — Iowa lawmakers heard from several speakers Monday who urged them to approve sweeping changes to Iowa’s collective bargaining law to give local elected officials the ability to create what one called a “culture of excellence and innovation.”
However, the great majority of speakers were against the changes that likely will be debated in both the Iowa House and Senate this week and told lawmakers to stop “swift boating the public” by suggesting the legislation is either reform or innovation.
At issue are identical 68-page bills in the Senate and House — House File 291 and Senate File 213 — that majority Republicans say “tweak” a 16-page, 43-year-old law that would limit the subjects that non-public safety workers can bring to the bargaining table, change arbitration rules, alter how unions are certified and eliminate the longtime practice of gathering dues through payroll deductions.
It also treats public safety employees differently than other public employees. Those not involved in public safety would be able to bargain only for base wages. Under current law, the can bargain for insurance, hours, vacations, holidays, overtime compensation, and health and safety matters.
Before the hearing, Democratic legislators called on majority Republicans to “slow down” and listen to Iowans who flooded legislative forums over the weekend to voice their opposition to the collective bargaining changes.
“Iowans are angry. Iowans are confused. Iowans are concerned,” said House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown.
Union members who spoke at the two-hour public hearing were angry and concerned, but there seemed to be little confusion about their opposition to the proposed changes.
The proposals represent a “direct attack on public employees,” Jon Thomas, a police officer and member of Teamsters Local 238, told members of the House Labor Committee.
He also called it politically misdirected. Thomas said that he and many other law enforcement officers have conservative values and vote Republican, but didn’t vote Republican “to get stabbed in the back.”
“Every legislator who supports this bill should expect to be challenged by a public employee” in 2018 because those who vote for the legislation are “representing the special interests who funded your last campaign, not your constituents.”
Pete Clancy, a Cedar Rapids high school teacher, called HF 291 “an attack on women” because the majority of teachers are women. By denying teachers the ability to bargain for anything other than base wages would “take the professional status away from hardworking woman and men.”
Opposition to the bills reflects “scare tactics from organizations trying to protect their turf,” Drew Klein of Americans for Prosperity said. States with limited or no public employee collective bargaining still have schools, law enforcement and emergency services, he said.
“Not only will Iowa survive, but thrive” under the proposed changes, Klein said. “It’s not the unions that make Iowa a great place to live … reform will be great for Iowa.”
Nicole Crain of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, said she wanted public employees to know that the private sector values them.
“The work you do does not go unnoticed,” she said, and argued that by removing the “current legal barriers” of collective bargaining public employees will have the “opportunity to excel and be rewarded accordingly.”
For many of those who spoke, it was not where they preferred to spend their evening.
“I’m more comfortable saving lives than testifying,” said Lynnette Halstead of Marion, a registered nurse at University Hospitals and member of SEIU 199.
Many of her co-workers and union sisters and brothers feel the system is rigged against the,
“That brought a lot of people out to the polls,” Halstead said. “No matter who they voted for, they didn’t vote for this.”
Only a fraction of the 1,000-plus people who signed up to speak had the opportunity during the hearing. That didn’t stop them from voicing their opposition as the Statehouse labor gathering turned into an hours-long rally, joined by several Democratic lawmakers who pledged to resist the bills, which likely will be debated in both the House and Senate this week.
Union members filled the Capitol rotunda, both the first floor and second, chanting “Kill the bill” and “Vote it down,” and displaying their pro-union posters from about 5 p.m. throughout the hearing.
Democrats accused the GOP of "railroading" the bills that were introduced just one week ago.
However, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said her party has used the “normal process” for handling legislation,
“So the bill was introduced, subcommittee, committee, public hearing and then we'll have a full debate on the bill,” she said. In addition to the action in the House, the Senate had a two-hour subcommittee meeting to hear from the public.
The Speaker’s office has indicated debate may continue to Friday. Democratic leaders said they intend to discuss each of its 67 sections in detail.