The Iowa House and Senate are set tonight to ram through the Republican bill that thoroughly dismantles Iowa’s collective bargaining law. Speaker Linda Upmeyer and Senate Leader Bill Dix have been steadfast in their support for the legislation, saying it modernizes public worker employment laws and benefits taxpayers. Governor Terry Branstad dismissed concerns of those public workers by simply saying, “They lost.”
But were Iowa Republicans always so adamant about the sweeping collective bargaining changes they’re pushing through now? While Republicans have certainly suggested some “tweaks” in the past and introduced bills to get rid of binding arbitration, this legislation completely guts every single meaningful part of Iowa’s Chapter 20. It goes even further than what Scott Walker did in Wisconsin.
Well, as it so happens, no, Republicans used to have plenty of good things to say about Iowa’s collective bargaining law. Chief among them Jeff Kaufmann, now the chair of the Republican Party of Iowa.
“Our collective bargaining laws always have been a balance between employer and employee; management and labor,” Kaufmann, then a state representative, wrote in an op-ed in March of 2008.
Kaufmann was writing about Democrats’ attempts in 2008 to expand what employees could negotiate for in the bargaining process. Back then, Republicans actively defended Chapter 20 as something that worked and was balanced. Kaufmann felt Democrats’ additions tilted the playing field away from what he saw at the time as a fair compromise.
“When legislation happens without any input from the minority political party or the affected citizens, bad things are bound to happen,” Kaufmann continued. “I have been on both sides of the bargaining table and this legislation is not good policy. The original collective bargaining law was a work of bipartisanship, this was the exact opposite.”
Many people may find those comments ironic, considering Republicans have rammed their bill through this year in just a week’s time with absolutely no input from the other party.
But it wasn’t just the man who is now literally the statewide chairman of the Republican Party that thought Iowa’s collective bargaining law worked just fine.
“Collective bargaining has been in place and has worked for 35 years,” Republican Tom Greene told the Burlington Hawkeye (the story is now archived) back in 2008. “It keeps the playing field relatively equal between labor and management. This would dangerously shift control to the employees.”
Greene said this when he was the Burlington School Board president. Now he’s the newly-elected state senator from Southeast Iowa, set to cast a vote on the bill that destroys that equal playing field tonight.
Other Republican legislators in 2008 had similar opinions. In a Burlington Hawkeye story actually titled “Iowa Won’t Be Next Wisconsin, Legislators Say” (also now archived), then-Representative Tom Sands defended the law as well.
“I think there’s a lot of people that believe that Chapter 20 has worked over the years and has served Iowa well,” Sands said. “It was Republican Legislature that brought the (Chapter 20) bill forward in the first place.”
Even the Republican Senate Minority Leader, Ron Wieck, said it worked.
“The current Code in Chapter 20 has worked for 34 years, was created in a bipartisan effort and went through 13 days of debate. I don’t know why they want to change this now,” Wieck told the Iowa State Daily.
Republicans were singing quite the different tune on collective bargaining in 2008. One has to wonder what facts and realities changed so dramatically in that timespan to get us to this complete dismantling of the law that’s worked for over 40 years.
It’s a testament on just how far we’ve come – or how far to the extreme right the Republican Party in Iowa has gone – in just nine short years.
by Pat Rynard