DES MOINES — The Iowa State Education Association and one of its local chapters are challenging collective bargaining changes the Legislature made earlier this year.

In a lawsuit filed in Polk County, the 34,000-member union and the Davenport Education Association are raising constitutional challenges to the law that made sweeping changes to the 43-year-old Chapter 20, public employee collective bargaining law.

“We fervently wish we did not have to seek remedy through the courts in order to enforce our rights,” ISEA President Tammy Wawro said Tuesday at a Capitol news conference. “However, the law, which was rushed through the Legislature and into effect, treats professional educators and their chosen representatives unequally and unfairly.”

After the news conference, Colin Tadlock, a spokesman for House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said the law was written to be constitutional.

In challenging the law passed by GOP majorities in the House and Senate, ISEA asserts it created two classes of public employees because it treats public safety employees differently than others. Public safety employees can bargain over a wider range of issues than teachers and others.

“A fire marshal is able to bargain ways to keep the inside of a firehouse safer,” Wawro said. “Why can’t a teacher bargain ways to keep the inside of a schoolhouse safe?”

House File 291, the law in question, would limit most public-sector union contract negotiations to base wages capped by the cost of living while eliminating such issues as health insurance and supplemental pay as mandatory items for bargaining. Iowa’s 1974 collective bargaining law permitted public workers to bargain for wages, benefits and other workplace issues with impasses resolved by binding arbitration in exchange for employees giving up the right to strike.

The suit also challenges a provision of the law that prohibits payroll deductions for union dues, but allows deductions for other organizations such as contributions to nonprofits.

Also targeted by the lawsuit is the “irrational voter universe” for recertification elections based on the total number of members of a bargaining unit rather than a majority of members voting.

If that rationale was applied to political elections, Wawro said, “no candidate would ever be elected to office.”

“It’s just not fair and it’s not right,” Wawro said in summing up the law. “Our state constitution guarantees Iowans to the right to fair and equal treatment under the law and HF 291 violates that basic promise.”

The Davenport Education Association is one of about 200 local bargaining units, and one of the largest, that approved contracts before the law went into effect. The association has a vested interest in getting the law overturned before the deal expires in 2020, union officials said.

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City Editor

Liz Boardman is the Quad-City Times City Editor, manages the Economy section and Bettendorf News, and is the house Freedom of Information Act geek. A Rock Island native, she joined the Times in 2016.