The 2017 Republican-controlled legislature’s destruction of the bargaining rights of public union workers should leave no question about the motives of the Iowa Republican Party. Their 2016 Iowa Republican Platform specifically calls for the “elimination of all public sector unions” in Iowa. Republicans’ successful passage of the most devastating union-busting bills in Iowa history in 2017 is the first step in fulfilling their platform pledge.
The consequences of that anti-worker legislation are about to be realized as unions struggle to re-certify in the next few months. The future ability of unions to represent their members will be decided as union re-certification elections are held across the state.
The Republicans’ sweeping union-busting legislation stripped teachers, prison workers, secretaries, university faculty and thousands of other public sector employees of their basic bargaining rights. Contract negotiations will be limited only to wages. That’s a huge change in the law which previously required benefits such as health insurance, vacation time and seniority perks to be negotiated collectively, as well as work conditions, overtime pay and evaluation procedures.
However, perhaps even more shocking, Republicans wrote very specific changes that force individual bargaining units to hold regular re-certification elections to retain their union’s ability to bargain for their members. These rules were written to jeopardize the very existence of unions by erecting nearly insurmountable election barriers.
These new election requirements demand each bargaining unit to vote to retain or end their union affiliation before negotiating each new contract. This new onerous obligation of a yes-or-no vote places an unnecessary burden on the union and their members. Unions will now be required to hold elections every couple years, many of which haven’t had an election since collective bargaining was passed in the 1970s. The previous rules required an election only if a majority of a bargaining unit requested one. Obviously this new demand to require unnecessary elections was an intentional Republican scheme to eliminate unions.
In addition, the underhanded voting rules that Republicans designed for re-certification elections places an unreasonable vote goal on unions to achieve. The Republican Legislature manipulated the democratic election process. In the past, unions only needed to win a majority of those members that chose to vote in the election. Under the new voting rules, unions must win a majority of all the members in the bargaining unit. Any members not voting are considered as no votes. This anti-democratic requirement is a blatant labor busting tactic meant to crush workers rights to organize. Counting non-voting members as no votes is a discriminatory and unfair rigging of the voting process.
Imagine if Republican legislators were forced to win reelection by winning a majority of all the eligible voters in their district? Tammy Wawro, President of the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA), pointed out this unwarranted requirement.
“If any candidate running for office in the United States needed to reach this bar, no one would ever be elected to office,” she said. “No public bond measure would ever pass, and no other vote measure would be won. No social studies or government teacher in any public school in Iowa would tell you that this is what democracy looks like.”
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Iowa Council 61 (AFSCME-61) and ISEA are the two largest unions fighting the new law. AFSCME-61 has described the new bill as “draconian.” Both unions are suing to overturn this law.
AFSCME-61 has over 18,500 dues-paying members in Iowa and represents over 40,000 state, county, school and municipal workers. The ISEA has about 34,000 dues-paying members and represents about 60,000 teachers and area education agency employees.
Both unions have a monumental challenge in the next few weeks and months in turning out their voters. They are asking that the public urge public sector employees to vote in the upcoming re-certification elections. Maintaining union representation is essential to protect their labor rights. Public service employees need to be reminded of who was present when Governor Branstad signed this anti-worker legislation. It was Drew Cline, the Director of Americans For Prosperity, the Koch Brothers front group. The Koch Brothers long term goal is to destroy the power of working Americans to join unions and have a voice in their futures.
by Rick Smith