Forced to fight for their survival by a new collective bargaining law, public employee unions in Iowa and the Quad-City area emerged Wednesday as big winners in recertification elections.
The results were announced by the Iowa Public Employee Relations Board, which oversaw the elections.
Of the 31 elections in Scott, Clinton and Muscatine counties, unions won 30 of them. There was just one loss.
Unions representing Davenport firefighters and educators in the Pleasant Valley School District were among the winners. The firefighters, in fact, voted unanimously to retain their bargaining unit, with all 125 people covered by its contract voting in favor, according to state figures.
Of the 347 people covered by the Pleasant Valley Education Association's contract with the school district, 325 cast ballots to retain the union. Only one person cast a "no" vote.
Eric Larew, a past president and current secretary for the Pleasant Valley union, said officials were confident going into the election, but that the margin of victory was probably a reaction to the way the rules were set up to count people not voting as "no" votes.
"I think there was some backlash from that," he said.
He added there also was the feeling that the election diverted time and resources when there wasn't a problem in the first place.
The elections, which ran from Oct. 10-24, were prompted by the new collective bargaining law that former Gov. Terry Branstad and the Republican-led legislature approved in February.
The law significantly curtailed the number of subjects that public workers, except most public safety employees, could negotiate over. But it also set up a system by which public employee unions, including those representing public safety workers, had to seek recertification in the final months of their contracts.
Union officials complained the move was aimed at breaking them up, and that the rules are not fair because unions had to get a majority of the votes of people covered by their contracts to win, rather than just a majority of those who vote.
Still, unions marshaled their efforts and of 468 elections statewide, they won 436 and lost only 32, according to results compiled by the Iowa Public Employee Relations Board, which oversaw the elections. Unions won all 13 recertification elections in September.
Statewide union leaders hailed the results Wednesday.
Danny Homan, president of AFSCME, Council 61, called it a "sweeping victory" and confirmed that employees covered by union contracts, even those who are not members, "value their voice in the workplace."
The Iowa State Education Association said 216 of its 220 locals across the state won recertification elections.
Of the 33,252 eligible voters statewide, 28,448 voted to retain their unions and only 624 cast ballots in opposition.
In other Quad-City area results, two bargaining units representing North Scott School District workers also were retained. They are represented by SEIU, Local 199. Ten bargaining units representing public workers in Muscatine County were retained in separate elections. Eleven unions in Clinton County were retained.
The news wasn't so good for a bargaining unit covering bus drivers in the Central Clinton Community School District in DeWitt. The union lost that election, even though seven of the people covered by its contract with the district voted for retention and no one opposed it.
There were 16 eligible votes in the election, however, meaning nine were needed to win. A single vote was voided and another eight did not cast ballots, according to state figures.
The result of the elections are still considered preliminary, but an official with SEIU, Local 199, which represents the bus drivers, said the result showed the unfairness of the system.
“This is not about democracy, this is about rigging the system against employees," Jim Jacobson, general counsel for SEIU, Local 199, said Wednesday. He said the union is considering its options, and that it has 10 days to challenge the election.
Already, the collective bargaining law is being challenged in court by labor unions.
Officials with the public employees relations board have previously said if a union were to lose a recertification vote its contract would be voided immediately, even if it was not set to expire for months.
In the bus drivers' situation, their contract was not scheduled to expire until next June, Jacobson said.
Mike Cormack, chairman of the public employee relations board, said there has been debate about this interpretation and it could be subject to challenge. However, he said the agency's case law tends to support its point of view.