A "heroes exemption" should be needless, if the Full Wisconsin collective bargaining overhaul rocketing through Iowa Legislature is truly a good deal for taxpayers and public employees. But Republicans have backed themselves into a political corner.
Iowa's public employee unions' worst nightmare was realized last week, when the bill dropped to severely restrict Chapter 20 bargaining on health care insurance, bonus pay and vacations. Dissenters call it "union busting," pointing to the exodus of teachers and bureaucrats from Wisconsin and Michigan after those states imposed similar restrictions on what could be collectively bargained.
But it's the reform package's sweeping carve-out for police and firefighters -- the creation of two classes of public employees -- that poses the greatest questions about whether facts or ideology are running the show. Under the plan, unions representing officers and firefighters could still negotiate health care benefits and vacations, for instance. The remainder of the public employee class would be left dealing in base pay and little else, yet another assault on home-rule.
There's reason behind the move to limit bargaining on health care, in particular. Costs annually skyrocket and, by and large, are absorbed by the local tax base. A more stringent system of negotiation among a larger cohort of employees is very likely to cut costs. The rest, however -- vacation days, bonus pay -- could sour the employee-management relationship at local governments. There needs to be chips with which to bargain, after all.
And this uniform system should apply to all employees, whether they wear work boots, a tie, or a badge and a gun.
The "put their lives on the line" defense is already swirling around the arbitrary division between bureaucrat and cop. But a quick glimpse at federal and state work-place fatality data prove the argument to be little more than emotion and politics. Loggers and truck drivers, per capita, are substantially more likely to die on the job than police officers or firefighters. In fact, police officers had the 15th most dangerous job in the U.S. in 2014, the most recent year available, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. While 2016 saw a saddening spike in fatal attacks on officers of more than 50 percent, it's highly unlikely that policing will even crack the top 10 when the numbers are crunched.
It might not fit into the present narrative, but a state or city employee hauling gravel and clearing trees is, in a statistical sense, indeed risking life and limb.
The segregation between the uniformed and the plain-clothed reeks of politics. It reeks of ideology. It reeks of a party that's so married to a worldview -- which elevates the uniformed and denigrates teachers and city planners -- that it now can't escape.
Fact is, few professions can whip up public support faster than officers and firefighters. And few professions are easier to politically bludgeon than teachers and bureaucrats. It's the result of a targeted campaign against regulation, government and the hardworking men and women who make it all function.
Police are worthy of appreciation. Firefighters do make sacrifices. But the not-so-sexy work done by clerks, budget analysts and parks and recreation staff is the very foundation of local government.
What's good enough for them, should be good enough for all public employees.