- Associated Press - Friday, February 17, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad on Friday signed into law limitations to most collective bargaining rights for public workers in the state, yet some changes could take years to go into effect.

The law, signed one day after Republicans with majorities in the Legislature voted for it, will prohibit workers such as teachers, nurses and correctional officers from negotiating over issues such as health insurance, evaluation procedures and extra pay.

Those key provisions will apply after workers’ current employment contracts expire, and there is a broad spectrum of legally binding deals around the state. Key union groups say dozens of local governments and school districts worked quickly with labor representatives to purposely finalize new contracts before the legislation went into law.

Des Moines Public Schools, the largest school district in the state, agreed to a new contract on Thursday, hours before Republicans sent the measure to Branstad’s desk. The contract keeps work benefits the same, but they’re extended through 2019.

“Our school board wanted to provide some stability to our employees during a time of uncertainty,” said district spokesman Phil Roeder in an email.

The contract was one of at least 160 contracts settled between districts and workers since the legislation was made public on Feb. 7. That’s according to the Iowa State Education Association, which represents 34,000 school employees in the state.

“It’s very much by locality as to what changes will go into effect, based on those contracts that were extended,” said Kelly McMahon, a kindergarten teacher on the executive board of her local union in eastern Iowa. The union agreed recently with the Cedar Rapids school district to extent most details of its contract through 2018.

McMahon was a teacher in Milwaukee when Wisconsin passed a similar law that also eliminated most collective bargaining rights for public workers. Both Iowa and Wisconsin excluded certain public safety employees from the changes, though public safety workers in Iowa will still have to adhere to other changes that labor groups say are aimed at union busting.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Iowa Council 61, which represents 40,000 public employees in the state, said it oversees about 140 contracts involving city, county and school officials. All but 20 have been extended, though that process has been taking place since November. The bulk of those contracts will expire in 2019 and 2020. At least one contract goes through 2023.

GOP leaders said local governments want more flexibility at the bargaining table. In a press release, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said “Changing the mandated items that must be bargained for allows management the ability to actually manage.”

Union leaders said the flurry of new contracts contradicts that. Ben Hammes, a spokesman for Branstad, said in an email that he couldn’t speak on the intentions of the contracts involving school districts, “however, there is no doubt that these reforms give superintendents the ability to effectively manage their funds and resources to suit the best interest of their teachers, and school children.”

In some instances, a new requirement that union dues be collected manually instead of through automatic paycheck deductions will also have to wait until existing contracts are up. Legal experts who study labor issues say the switch - which was also included in Wisconsin’s 2011 collective bargaining law - is aimed at financially crippling unions.

Andrew Rasmussen, president of the Des Moines Education Association, said the dues collection language is in their current contract. That will allow his local more time to switch over to a new system. But McMahon in Cedar Rapids said her contract removed the paycheck language, a sign that some aspects of the new law were able to make their way into extended contracts.

A spokeswoman for AFSCME Iowa Council 61 said the organization believes the ability to automatically collect union dues remains in most of their extended contracts.

Rasmussen said the new law has emboldened his local union.

“We’re really focused on evolving and adjusting and becoming more about empowering our members to become more effective teachers and also more effective advocates for public schools, and giving them ways to organize around issues.”

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