Fresh off a sweeping victory in November that was won in large part to support from working class voters, Iowa Republicans have found their first place to make cuts: police officers’ health care benefits.
With complete control of Iowa’s government for the first time in 20 years, Governor Terry Branstad and the Republican House and Senate majorities are expected to take aim very early on at public employees’ collective bargaining rights. They’re likely to try to wipe out Chapter 20, the part of Iowa code that allows public employees to negotiate with the state over salaries and benefits. That applies to state workers, police officers, teachers and firefighters.
However, Republicans are not waiting around until the legislative session in January to start their effort to undermine working people’s rights and paychecks. They’re already playing hardball in end-of-year contract negotiations with the police and public employees unions, anticipating having an even stronger hand once the legislature makes changes.
Their intentions first surfaced in their meeting with the State Police Officers Council, when Branstad’s director of the Department of Administrative Services had red-lined out the health, life and dental insurance portions of the state’s offer for a 2017-2019 contract.
“Insurance is a crucial piece of our benefits for our families and employees of the state of Iowa who go out every day and put their lives on the line,” Jason Bardsley, a trooper who is president of the State Police Officers Council, told the Register. “For that to be stripped away, it would be very concerning for our membership to have to worry about what would happen if something does happen,” Bardsley said.
By immediately going after police officers’ health and life insurance, Republicans will be walking a tricky line in their anti-collective bargaining efforts. While Republicans often try to frame their attacks on public employee negotiating rights as saving taxpayers’ money, the reality is that it would mean less pay and benefits for the very people who keep our communities safe, like police officers, firefighters and prison workers, as well as those who teach our children in public schools. And especially given the recent deaths of police officers in the Des Moines metro, a preemptive attack from Republicans on cops’ life insurance policies seems particularly tone deaf.
Were Branstad and legislative Republicans to be successful in their effort to end Chapter 20 bargaining rights next year, the state would essentially be able to unilaterally set the pay and benefits for all safety and state workers. Branstad’s department has already proposed a zero percent pay increase for the next two years for state employees, so it’s clear where that would lead: smaller paychecks for the working Iowans who keep us safe.
On the healthcare front, the current proposal from Branstad is to have the state create its own health care program for all state workers. That would be an interesting change considering Branstad went in the other direction of privatization with Medicaid last year. That move ended up saving some money, but it was because the private Medicaid insurers literally didn’t pay healthcare providers for their services for patients. So such a move on healthcare for state workers would likely only be able to save money at the very expense of the people on the coverage, including the Iowans who work some of the state’s most dangerous jobs.
Everything is shaping up for the 2017 legislative session to be an extremely pivotal moment for the future of working Iowans. Emboldened by their victories, Republicans seem set on going after working people’s paychecks, no matter who they are.
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by Pat Rynard